CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) -- A proposed change in the charter of this heavily Roman Catholic city to declare that "human life begins at conception" was headed for defeat last night.
The "Human Family Amendment" was strongly backed by abortion opponents who placed the referendum on the ballot through a petition drive. For more than a year, abortion battles have consumed this Gulf Coast city of nearly 300,000. The city's name is Latin for "body of Christ."
The proposal had the active support of Roman Catholic Bishop Rene Gracida, who has excommunicated two abortion clinic employees and a doctor who performs abortions.
With 80 of the city's 95 precincts reporting and absentee ballots counted, 14,251 people opposed the measure and 9,021 favored it, according to unofficial returns.
Among the opponents were Citizens United for Charter Integrity, whose treasurer, Helen Wilk, described the proposed amendment as "an effort to impose a personal religious belief on the citizens of Corpus Christi."
Mrs. Wilk said she was worried that an amended city charter would be used to promote city ordinances regulating abortion.
Tracy Cassidy, chairwoman of the Human Family Committee, contended that the amendment was merely a statement of principle with no force of law.
"It's just giving recognition to the victims of the pro-abortion morality in this city," she said Friday.
Drawing on language from the Declaration of Independence, the initiative spells out rights that apply to "all members of the human family, regardless of age, development, physical or mental condition, race, or natural origin."
It concludes that "human life begins at conception and continues until natural death."
Bishop Gracida was one of the first to sign the petition last summer, and he has urged parishioners to support it.
In less than two weeks, the petition obtained more than the required 6,500 signatures.
The Human Family Committee has raised about $60,000 in campaign funds, much of which was spent on TV commercials.
"If it doesn't have any meaning, why are they spending that kind of money?" asked Mrs. Wilk, whose Charter Integrity group has raised about $15,000.
Mrs. Cassidy contended that the referendum provided an opportunity for those on both sides of the abortion issue to express their beliefs without having to join in protests.