EARLIER THIS MONTH, Mississippi did something somewhat surprising: It rejected a "personhood" amendment to its state constitution that would have granted human eggs, from the moment of fertilization, the same rights as an actual person. The amendment, challenging Roe v. Wade, would have criminalized abortion along with contraceptives like IUDs and the morning-after pill.
But the measure, despite its defeat, received a fury of national attention. And guess where its backers—Personhood USA—are turning next? Oregon.
"I definitely think we can get it on the 2012 ballot," says Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman of Personhood USA.
Mason says Oregon operatives are working to collect the 1,000 supportive signatures they'll need to turn in to the Oregon Attorney General's office by spring. Five other states, including California, are looking toward a similar amendment.
Just three years old, Personhood USA is a self-titled grassroots organization made up of young campaigners who are prepared to fight. Hard.
"We're up against one of the largest anti-family and deceptive organizations in the US, Planned Parenthood," says Mason. "But because we're talking about human life here, we won't quit until we win."
However, not all anti-abortion groups are on board with Personhood USA's motives or tactics.
"This is very different than just a measure banning abortions, it's more a statement," says Gayle Atteberry of Oregon Right to Life (ORL), the state's leading anti-abortion organization. "It's not necessarily the thought process of every pro-lifer."
Atteberry says that running a ballot measure is both expensive and hard work—something ORL would only commit to if they were fully behind the issue. "There are a lot of things we would rather spend money and time on."
Following ultra-conservative Mississippi, Oregon may seem like an unlikely target. But Oregon remains one of a handful of states without any major abortion restrictions—such as waiting periods or parental consent.
Jimmy Radosta of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon says some anti-abortion advocates might see a "personhood" amendment as an end-run around the state's traditional resistance to abortion limits.
Radosta also points to the looming presidential race as another reason the issue has gained national traction. Personhood USA eventually wants a federal amendment. Currently, 63 Republicans in the US House are cosponsors of the "Sanctity of Human Life Act," a measure that closely resembles the personhood amendment. While it's far from cemented, any support at the national level is frightening, Radosta says.
But if the measure didn't pass in conservative Mississippi... it seems like a stretch to actually make in Oregon.
"We still can't take it lightly, though," says Radosta. "You never know what can happen during an election year."
Radosta also says Planned Parenthood is prepared to put up a fight if the measure makes it on Oregon's 2012 ballot.
"These amendments are very dangerous," says Radosta. "What they're really doing is reframing the entire Roe v. Wade issue. It's deeply troubling."