Anti-abortion proposal heads to Alaska court

Lawsuit argues that lt. gov. should never have certified measure

Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Opponents of a ballot initiative designed to outlaw abortion in Alaska by declaring fetuses "legal persons" are challenging it in court.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that the Alaska Civil Liberties Union is supporting the lawsuit challenging the ballot drive, which was filed last week by plaintiffs including Vic Fischer, a former Democratic legislator and delegate to the state constitutional convention.

The lawsuit argues that Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell should never have certified the measure and that sponsors should be blocked from collecting signatures.

"It is just insane," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union.

The plaintiffs contend the proposal could have serious consequences and there is no way voters can know what it might mean for state laws if it passed. They argue that the measure is so broad it could result in women being sued over miscarriages.

Initiative sponsor Christopher Kurka hadn't seen the lawsuit, but insisted his opponents are using scare tactics and absurd scenarios to cloud the issue.

Kurka's effort is part of a nationwide push to put "personhood" initiatives on state ballots. The movement focuses on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established abortion rights nationally. Justice Harry Blackmun indicated that a fetus would be protected if its personhood were established.

"So, basically, what we're doing here is if we say that we recognize the unborn as persons, then a woman's right to choose or a right to privacy doesn't matter (just as) she doesn't have a right to kill her child after it's born," Kurka said.

The ballot measure would dictate that "all human beings, from the beginning of their biological development as human organisms, including the single-cell embryo ... shall be recognized as legal persons in the state of Alaska."

The state attorney general's office issued an opinion that any initiative trying to ban abortions would be clearly unconstitutional, but Attorney General Dan Sullivan said the "personhood" initiatve could still go forward.

Attorney General Dan Sullivan did suggest the petition include a disclaimer: that it "would not amend or repeal existing state law regulating abortion, but could impact some areas of the law, including criminal law, to extend rights and protections prior to birth."

Kurka said supporters will begin gathering the 32,734 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot next month.

Mittman said it would open the door to someone suing on behalf of a single-celled embryo for anything an adult could now go to court for under Alaska law. He said certain contraception, including the morning-after pill and the intrauterine device, or IUD, could be banned.

Pregnant women who went skiing, for example, could possibly be sued if they later suffered a miscarriage, he said.

"So what's to stop somebody from suing on behalf of an embryo to receive a permanent fund dividend check?" Mittman said. "I mean, how can they not get one if they are a legal person?"

Kurka said that's a bit exaggerated: Only citizens can receive dividends, and citizens must be born.

"It's about whether or not we as a society are going to recognize the unborn as legal persons and call it for what it is," he said.



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