“Mississippi should caution people about using abstract, broad language for state constitutional amendments,” says Clark Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, the country’s oldest antiabortion organization. Caution “will be taken by some and not taken by others. That’s what happens in social movements: There’s no regulatory order.”
Forsythe has repeatedly questioned the strategy of sweeping amendments like the one pushed in Mississippi. But he also does not see the strategy disappearing from the larger antiabortion movement. We spoke Wednesday about what happens next, other aspects of the personhood issue and the future of the antiabortion movement. Here is an edited version of our conversation:
Sarah Kliff: Give me your read on what happened in Mississippi last night. What does this mean for the antiabortion movement?
Carl Forsythe: Ballot initiatives to change state constitutions are very difficult. People tend to vote against changing their state constitutions. The breadth and abstractness of language of the particular amendment made it highly vulnerable to the opponents’ “mud against the wall” strategy. They could claim that it does anything under the sun, including the end of the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, they might find something that sticks with the public. It should caution people about using abstract, broad language for state constitutional amendments.
SK: Do you think that will be the takeaway message for people who have supported this particular personhood movement? I’ve seen a lot of people make the point that, if this amendment can’t pass in Mississippi, it can’t pass anywhere.
CF: It will be taken by some and not taken by others. That’s what happens in social movements: Anybody can get in, and there’s no regulatory kind of order. Either way, Mississippi has, I think, raised some public awareness around the fact that the law already does protect the unborn child, through fetal homicide laws, as a person.
SK: Tell me a bit more on that point. What kind of laws exist right now that give legal protection to fetuses? I know a lot of states have laws that criminalize fetal homicide.
CF: We have 38 states that have wrongful death laws, that protect the unborn child as a person. That movement has been tremendously successful on all fronts. Tennessee upgraded their fetal homicide law this year, and North Carolina passed one for the first time. These laws continue to grow, year by year, and state by state.
SK: What abortion-related issues would you expect states to take up as they head back into legislative sessions for 2012?
CF: It’s a state-by-state question, but I’d imagine you’d see states looking at restrictions like informed consent and increased clinic regulations. But it’s also a political year, so you may see as many bills introduced or passed this year.
SK: In the larger scheme of things, where do you think Americans are on the issues of personhood? How many rights are they going to grant in this area?
CF: California was the first state to pass a fetal homicide law in 1970, and we now have 37. It’s been tremendously successful on all fronts. The issue is....one where there’s concern about the impact on the woman. That’s always been the case and something that we have to take that into consideration. But through the proper and effective legal vehicles, there are ways to move forward on it.