Arkansas: Personhood rejected by Attorney General

January 4th, 2012 | Posted by Atlee Breland in Legislation

Today, the Arkansas Attorney General rejected the ballot initiative petition filed by Personhood Arkansas in December.

Under Arkansas law, the Attorney General must review the proposed initiative’s name and description, and make sure that they are not inaccurate or misleading. The initiative must also not conflict with federal constitutional, statutory, or regulatory provisions.

Full text of the AG’s opinion

Unsurprisingly, AG Dustin McDaniel cites the conflict between the initiative and “the Supreme Court’s interpretation of controlling federal law”. It’s inevitable that a measure which grants personhood to unborn babies would clash with the current constitutional interpretation set out by Roe v Wade.

However, McDaniel also examines the proposed new language, and concludes that the prohibition on birth control and IVF practices which “cause the death of a person” would potentially be prohibited by the measure. As we have discussed here at Parents Against Personhood, birth control methods which can sometimes potentially prevent implantation, such as IUDs and hormonal birth control, can therefore be considered as causing the death of a person. The same applies for the cryopreservation of IVF embryos, where there is a possibility that an embryo may be destroyed by the freezing process.

All such practices would be up for debate under personhood, and McDaniel concludes that the ballot language therefore leaves a great deal of legal uncertainty about specific practices. This does not meet the Arkansas requirement that ballot initiatives be clear and unambiguous in their intentions and effects.

It is apparent that you intend to foreclose a series of birth-control, research and treatment options that are currently available – consequences that you must identify and acknowledge in both the text of your measure and in the ballot title.

He further calls into question the exception for “medical treatment intended to preserve life” as being inaccurately written to achieve the stated goal of permitting treatment of life-threatening pregnancy complications.

McDaniel notes that legal reviews of personhood in Nevada and Alaska have found similar conflicts with federal law, as well as potential impacts on birth control and IVF.

Personhood Arkansas’ initiative petition is therefore rejected by AG McDaniel. While the proponents may edit and re-submit their proposal, it is questionable whether they can overcome the constitutional issues involved and meet the legal criteria for submission. It is now much less likely that personhood will appear on the Arkansas ballot in November.

We at Parents Against Personhood commend AG McDaniel for his clear-sighted understanding of the legal complexities involved, and his recognizance that even the “revised” personhood language still carries very serious concerns for women and families.

We hope his decision will serve as an example to other states like Colorado which are potentially facing personhood initiatives of their own.

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