WOULD PROPOSED AMENDMENT MAKE BIRTH CONTROL ILLEGAL IN FLORIDA?
Tampa Tribune -- September 11, 2009
By Catherine Dolinski
Anti-abortion conservatives are proposing a new Constitutional amendment
that critics claim would make it a crime to take birth control pills in
The "Personhood Amendment" that conservative activists are filing in
Tallahassee on Friday would add language to the state Constitution that
defines someone as a "person," regardless of age or health status, "from
the beginning of the biological development of that human being."
Pat McEwen of Palm Bay is one of two leaders of the loose collection of
activists, collectively known as Personhood Florida.
"In the original Florida Constitution in 1885, they gave Floridians the
right to enjoy and defend life," she said. "This amendment defends the
unborn, and it also gives older people like me -- a retired college
professor -- the right to make my own decisions, and not have someone
Personhood Florida will have to collect 676,811 petition signatures by
Feb. 1 for its proposal to make the 2010 ballot, though organizers say
they'll keep trying if they don't make that deadline.
On the group's side is the American Life League, a socially conservative
Virginia-based organization that is backing similar amendments in about
two dozen states. The national group spent $250,000 on a campaign that
put a similar question on Colorado's ballot in 2008. Voters rejected
that measure by a margin of roughly 3-to-1.
Though the wording of that proposal differed from the one now pending in
Florida, their meanings are similar. The 2008 proposal in Colorado
defined human beings at "the moment of fertilization." The Florida
amendment refers to "the beginning of the biological development," which
McEwen defined in a Thursday interview to mean a fertilized egg.
That, opponents say, would make it a crime not just to kill a fetus by
abortion, but to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's
uterus as birth control pills can.
"By their definition, anything that you might do to interfere with the
implantation of a fertilized egg would be tantamount to murder," said
Marc Farinella, a campaign consultant of state Chief Financial Officer
Alex Sink, presumptive Democratic candidate for governor.
As described by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,
both birth control pills and intrauterine devices, or IUDS, work partly
by causing the lining of the uterus to thin, "making it less likely that
a fertilized egg can attach to it."
McEwen, of Personhood Florida, said the primary purpose of a birth
control pill is to prevent fertilization. Preventing the egg from
implanting, she said, is "secondary" -â€“ and she's not convinced it
even happens, arguing that not all research supports that finding.
Given that, she said, she's not convinced her proposed amendment would
criminalize the pill. But she would support banning it, she said, if she
were truly convinced that it prevents implantation.
Personhood Florida's national backer, the American Life League, has no
such doubts. On its Web site, the league slams the pill for numerous
reasons, including this one: "the pill will irritate the lining of the
uterus so that the newly formed human being cannot attach to his/her
mother's womb and dies. This is called a chemical abortion."
The group also operates the pillkills.com Web site, which focuses
primarily on blood clots and other health risks birth control pills pose
Farinella, former chief of staff and campaign manager for the late
Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri, said he got to know the
American Life League during Carnahan's bid for the U.S. Senate in 2000.
Carnahan faced conservative U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in the
2000 race, prior to his fatal airplane crash in October of that year.
"That race, from the time it started, was about these hot-button social
issues," Farinella said, and the American Life League was aligned firmly
with Ashcroft. He described the group as the "ringleader" of a national
movement to outlaw birth control.
Katie Walker, spokeswoman for the American Life League, said Farinella
is jumping to conclusions about the of the proposed amendment's impact.
"I have no idea what would happen if this were to pass" she said.
Contraception "is "not the scope of this amendment. This amendment is
about civil rights -- it's really a continuation of the civil Rights
But Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky
Mountains, said the potential for criminalizing birth control became
part of the statewide debate over the Colorado amendment in 2008.
"Voters stated loudly that they didn't want this measure that had such
With less than six months to collect hundreds of thousands of
signatures, Personhood Florida faces a tight deadline for making the
next ballot. Leaders of the Christian Coalition of Florida and Florida
Family Policy Council did not return phone calls Thursday seeking
comment about the amendment and whether they will campaign for it.
Such a ballot question could affect which voters turn out -- though it's
hard to say whether opponents or supporters would be more motivated,
said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of government at the University
of South Florida in St. Petersburg. "They're really playing with fire,"
he said. "It could just as easily turn out an equal or greater number of
voters on the political left who staunchly oppose this."
It could also pose headaches for 2010 political candidates with nuanced
abortion stances. Thursday, even candidates who call themselves
"pro-life" stopped short of fully embracing the personhood proposal.
Attorney General Bill McCollum, presumptive GOP candidate for governor,
said through spokeswoman Shannon Gravitte that he is firmly "pro-life"
but would not comment "on hypothetical issues." If the proposal wins
enough petition signatures, she said, "voters will certainly know where
General McCollum stands."
In the U.S. Senate GOP primary, Gov. Charlie Crist said "no and no" when
asked if he knew of the proposal or would comment on it.
Crist's rival in the primary, Marco Rubio, said through spokesman Alex
Burgos that he believes strongly that life begins at conception and that
he opposes the decision in Roe v. Wade. But he stopped short of
endorsing the personhood amendment. Rubio, Burgos said, "will be
soliciting the views of different parties involved, to ensure he makes a