As part of a renewed pro-life strategy to challenge Roe v. Wade, lawmakers in seven states are working toward legislation to grant constitutional rights to human embryos.
Five states, including Maryland, North Dakota, Montana, South Carolina and Alabama, have recently introduced "personhood" bills. The bills affirm the right to life for pre-borns from the moment of conception. For some states, the bill also declares the word "persons" as applying to all human life, irrespective to biological development.
The Montana Senate held a hearing on the personhood bill on Thursday.
On Wednesday, North Dakota representatives passed H.R. 1572 with a vote of 51-41. The measure now goes to the ND Senate for review.
Rep. Dan Ruby, who sponsored the N.D. measure, said the legislation did not automatically ban abortion, reported the Associated Press.
The ND bill states: "For purposes of interpretation of the constitution and laws of North Dakota, it is the intent of the legislative assembly that an individual, a person, when the context indicates that a reference to an individual is intended, or a human being includes any organism with the genome of homo sapiens."
Grassroots support helped to pass the bill, according Personhood USA, a grassroots Christian organization, which reported that thousands of pro-life advocates called legislators in support of the measure.
"North Dakotans have gotten used to cold temperatures like -44 degrees, but they haven't gotten used to child-killing," commented Cal Zastrow of Personhood USA, who helped organize grassroots support for the bill.
In Oregon, pro-life advocates have also begun a petition drive to place a person amendment before voters in 2010. A similar effort is expected to be launched in Mississippi in coming weeks.
Last year, Colorado became the first state to vote on a personhood amendment. The proposed measure, which defined a fertilized egg as a person in the state, was defeated during the November election.
According to Personhood USA, these efforts aim to fill the "Blackmun Hole" in Roe v. Wade. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in the 1973 Supreme Court decision that if it were established that the pre-born is a person, the argument for abortion collapses.
"Personhood efforts raise the standard of what it is to be pro-life. We expect that as the understanding that all humans are people spreads, the injustice of abortion will end," said Keith Mason of Personhood USA.
Judie Brown, president of American Life League, has said the personhood movement marks a monumental shift in pro-life legislation of the past 20 years.
"It strikes at the root of the culture of death and discusses life issues in their true context - as the foundation of all civil rights issues," she said earlier this month.