Organizers of Personhood Ballot Initiative aim for November general election

 The Oklahoma chapter of Personhood USA formally launched a ballot initiative campaign last week, intending to secure signatures needed to put a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot. After a Capitol press conference held, activists filed the text of their initiative petition with the secretary of state’s office.

Organizers say their measure would be more effective than Senate Bill 1433, a statutory measure moving through the Legislature which organizers say would promote a pro-life ethic in the state. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the provisions of a similar statute, enacted two decades ago in Missouri.

Backers of the constitutional initiative petition said it would, as the state’s supreme law, “have the greatest impact” on abortion. A similar state measure was defeated by voters in Mississippi last year.

In response to questions, Daniel Skerbitz, an organizer of the initiative, rebuffed contentions the proposal bans contraception and/or in vitro fertilization. He said it  would ban abortafacients and abortion-inducing acts. Skerbitz said, “abortafacients are not contraception.”

Skerbitz said the goal is to “change the debate from regulating abortion to protecting the life of the unborn.” He also said doctors acting to save the lives of mothers would not face prosecution under the measure.

Speakers at the press conference were Skerbitz, state Rep. Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, Cythia Carney of “Silent No More,” a group she described as consisting of “post-abortion women,” and Josiah Presley, who described himself as an abortion survivor.

Carney had a baby at the age of 16. When she became pregnant again a few year later, her husband encouraged her to abort. Carney, then serving in the military but now a Tulsan, said she felt “caught in a trap” and sought an abortion. When the procedure was performed, she was unconscious for a time and awoke in “horrendous pain and bleeding uncontrollably.”

Although she had vowed never to speak of her experience, she changed her mind after learning what she characterized as “the truth” about abortion. Carney said abortion “hurt me and my family, and abortion is hurting our country.”

Presley told the story of his birth mother who procured an abortion when he was at two months of gestation. “Somehow it failed,” he said, and when she discovered she was still pregnant some time later she carried the unborn boy to term. Presley said, “according to the laws of the Korean and U.S. governments, I was not a person.”

However, Presley said, he was a person and was fortunate to be born and eventually adopted into a loving American family. Presley pointed out his deformed left arm as a consequence of the attempted abortion. He said “adoption is the answer to abortion. When I was adopted, I was wanted by my parents.” 

The proposed ballot initiative would add a new Article 2, Section 38 of the state constitution, to read:

“A ‘person’ as referred to in Article 2, section 2 of this constitution shall be defined as any human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being to natural death. The inherent rights of such person shall not be denied without due process of law and no person as defined herein shall be denied equal protection under the law due to age, place of resident or medical condition.”

Proponents of the initiative are listed as Skerbitz, a Tulsan, Reynolds, of Oklahoma City, and R. Russell Hunter of Norman, director of a group called the Abolitionist Society.

Advocates have 90 days to gather 155,000 valid petition signatures to get the constitutional initiative on the November ballot. In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, organizers said they have a goal of 200,000 names in order to develop an adequate “cushion” to offset any challenged signatures. Skerbitz said organizers are mailing out 25,000 petition packets to jumpstart the process.

A representative of Personhood USA said initiative petition drives are under way in 12 states, including Florida, Montana, Nevada, California and Oklahoma.

After the Personhood USA press conference, abortion foe Randall Terry, a Democratic presidential candidate, said he was seeking enough votes in the Tuesday, March 6 presidential primary to undermine President Barack Obama’s electability in the November general election.

Terry told CapitolBeatOK he is optimistic of gaining at least five percent of the primary vote. Fifteen percent is needed to secure delegate strength.

In addition to the president and Terry (a West Virginian), Bob Ely of Illinois, Darcy G. Richardson of Florida and Jim Rogers of Oklahoma (Midwest City) are seeking the Democratic nomination.