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Pro-Life Group Pushes for Constitutional Amendment

Pro-Life advocates on Friday will start a new push in Florida by introducing a proposed constitutional amendment that says life starts when biological development begins.

At a public event planned for the state Capitol, a group calling itself “Personhood Florida” will submit the proposed amendment to the Division of Elections, the first step in its quest to begin collecting petitions to put the issue before voters as early as 2010.

The ballot language reads: “The words "person" and "natural person" apply to all human beings, irrespective of age, race, health, function, condition of physical and/or mental dependency and/or disability, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.

“This amendment shall take effect on the first day of the next regular legislative session occurring after voter approval of this amendment.”

The Florida event is part of a series of similar activities in at least 25 states organized by American Life League, a Stafford, Va.-based group that supports stricter abortion laws across the country.

“Each state has different procedures, so we working with local groups to coordinate the efforts,” said Katie Walker, spokeswoman for the American Life League. The group, which describes itself as the “largest grassroots, Catholic-based pro-life” organization in the country is helping state groups organize.

“The real push will come from local groups within the state,” Walker said.

Last year, abortion foes in Colorado tried to pass a measure that would have defined a fertilized human egg as a person, but it failed at the ballot box. This year in Colorado, like in Florida, backers are instead pushing a proposal that refers to "the beginning of the biological development of that human being."

Brenda MacMenamin, state coordinator for the Personhood Florida, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But the Port St. Lucie resident has been spearheading efforts across the state to replicate grassroots “personhood” initiatives in other states.

“Some may be concerned that now is not the time for a human personhood amendment,” MacMenamin wrote to supporters last month. “Some may say there is a better way. To this we say, along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his passionate epistle from the Birmingham jail, ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’”

Friday’s action will be the first step in the initiative process. Once the state Division of Elections approves the petition format, backers must obtain signatures from 10 percent of voters in at least seven U.S. Congressional Districts in Florida.

The petition is then reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court, which must certify that the initiative is clearly written and encompasses only a single subject. If it passes muster there, backers must obtain about 676,811 certified signatures to put the issue before voters.

Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said the group opposes the proposed amendment, which she characterized as a misguided attempt by a “fringe group” to circumvent the legislative process.

Kimmell said the group is monitoring the national push and will respond, but said recent votes on similar amendments have been defeated in four states.

“This issue does not have a very good track record,” Kimmell said.

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