Skip to comments.Lawmaker proposes 'personhood' amendment to change
Posted on 12/28/2011 10:44:18 AM PST by afraidfortherepublic
A freshman lawmaker is proposing to change Wisconsin's Constitution to grant equal rights to the unborn as part of a national push to reframe the abortion debate, a strategy that has failed in at least two states and has divided abortion opponents in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
State Rep. Andre Jacque (R-Bellevue) introduced the so-called personhood amendment in November. He says it's needed to protect the state's decades-old abortion ban still on the books - one of just a few around the country - in the event of legal challenges if Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision nullifying such statutes, is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The measure is supported so far by a handful of Republican lawmakers and the Catholic-based anti-abortion group Pro-Life Wisconsin, which helped to draft it.
But critics are lining up in opposition, including physicians, social workers and Pro-Life Wisconsin's larger ally in the anti-abortion movement, Wisconsin Right to Life.
Susan Armacost, legislative director for Wisconsin Right to Life, said the amendment could negate the existing statute, leaving nothing in place should Roe v. Wade fall.
"This wouldn't do one single thing to protect children . . . and it will be harmful to our cause," she said.
"The strategy most people agree is best is to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would allow the states to protect unborn children."
Matt Sande, her counterpart at Pro-Life Wisconsin says the amendment would complement, rather than hurt, the abortion ban by codifying a blanket protection of the unborn that would withstand the ever-shifting political landscape of the Legislature and state Supreme Court.
"What we're looking for is some permanency here, some free and lasting protection for the preborn child in Wisconsin, and a constitutional amendment does that," he said.
Jacque's Assembly Joint Resolution 77 would recast a portion of Wisconsin's Constitution that states that "all people are born equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, among which is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
The amendment would omit the word "born," and identify the terms "people" and "person" as they pertain to the right to life to include "every human being at any stage of development."
To take effect, a constitutional amendment must pass two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by the electorate.
Similar measures have failed, in Mississippi and twice in Colorado, but supporters continue to push them elsewhere, including in Ohio, California and Florida.
Critics say such bills would have wide-ranging legal and societal repercussions; outlawing certain types of birth control; in vitro fertilization; embryonic stem cell research and abortion in all cases, including when the mother's life is in danger, an exception that exists in the current statute.
Mark Grapentine, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Medical Society, which opposes the measure, said it could undermine physicians' ability to effectively treat their patients.
People "want to have a relationship with their physician that is not infringed upon by legislation that is not necessarily responsive to the latest science," he said.
In addition, critics say, the amendment would not withstand a constitutional challenge.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt with the personhood of the unborn child and rejected it 23 times," said Armacost of Wisconsin Right to Life. "We're talking about justices who we believe" are on our side . . . but cannot find in the "constitution protection for the unborn child," she said.
Jacque, who is Catholic and was endorsed by both anti-abortion groups, said he introduced the measure in part because of his religious beliefs. But the state's Catholic bishops are not rushing to back him up.
Bishops around the country have rejected or stood neutral on similar measures, and John Huebscher of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference said it has not yet made a decision on whether it will weigh in.
Said Huebscher: "We're still assessing the bill and the arguments."
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