Personhood 2.0: Georgia Revives Failed Mississippi Measure

'Personhood' Anti-Abortion Initiative Gets A Makeover In Georgia

The national movement to define a zygote as a legal person failed a few weeks ago in Mississippi, but anti-abortion advocates behind two new "personhood" amendments pre-filed in Georgia are insisting that they have learned from Mississippi's mistakes.

"We're definitely looking at what happened [in Mississippi] and trying to incorporate those concerns," state Rep. Rick Crawford, the Georgia Democrat that plans to introduce one of the personhood amendments, told HuffPost Friday. "One thing that's important to me is to emphasize the distinction between the terms 'pro-life' and 'anti-abortion' -- they're quite different concepts. Pro-life means being interested in things like women having access to adequate prenatal care, children have access to health care, investing in educational opportunities. It's a lot broader concept than anti-abortion, and I want to be careful to keep that in the discussion."

But the Georgia personhood amendments, as described by proponents like Crawford, will -- like the Mississippi one -- be unequivocally "anti-abortion." When asked how the amendments would address women's access to prenatal care or children's educational opportunities, Crawford admitted they would not. In defining a human life from the moment of fertilization, both states' measures would criminalize abortion.

Crawford's amendment, he said, would be more detailed than the Mississippi amendment, and similar to Georgia General Assembly amendments introduced in the most recent legislative session that never went to vote.

In order to avoid the problem of vagueness that plagued the Mississippi initiative, Georgia Right to Life president Dan Becker said lawmakers are combing through all 50 sections of the Georgia Code to decide exactly what the final personhood bill will and won't do, so no one has to speculate about its potential legal consequences.

"We will be the first state in the nation to offer a personhood amendment with legislation that clearly spells out what the amendment's effects would be legally, so it's clearly understood by doctors and those women using contraceptives and fertility treatment," Becker told HuffPost Friday.

Beyond Georgia, nearly a dozen other states -- including Virginia and Colorado -- are pushing for personhood amendments in 2012. Congress has also introduced three bills on a federal level that would have the same effect.

"The personhood movement is a human life issue," Becker continued. "It does affect abortion, but it is a human life issue that will come more and more to the floor as we progress it to the 21st century. We're attempting to take fear factors and scare tactics out of the equation so we can have a public dialogue about human rights."

Becker said Georgia's latest version of personhood would only ban the methods of birth control, stem cell research and in vitro fertilization that would kill a zygote. For instance, the "morning-after pill" would be banned, but not regular birth control pills. It will not curtail access to in vitro fertility treatments, but it will stop "certain procedures such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis that determine the gender of child for selection purpose," he said. And only "destructive stem cell research," which kills zygotes, would be banned.

But reproductive rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are not convinced that these measures would be any less dangerous to women's health than the Mississippi one.

"I'm doubtful they could craft a personhood amendment that alleviates all the problems," Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Monday. Kolbi-Mollinas fought the initiative in Mississippi. "I'm not surprised to hear them deny that it would affect birth control. They can say whatever they want at this point, and obviously they're trying to say how this one's different and better, but if they just wanted to ban abortion, they would propose and pass an abortion ban. The fact that they keep sticking with these personhood initiatives demonstrates that they want to go much further than abortion."

Georgia's legislative session begins in January, and at that point the new amendments -- once introduced -- will go to committee. If the final amendment passes with two-thirds majority in the House and Senate, it will be put before Georgia voters as a ballot initiative. Becker said he thinks it will sail through.

"Mississippi claimed to be a slam-dunk state, but we have the votes here in Georgia," Becker said.

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