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Anti-Abortion Group’s Ballot Initiative Never Mentions Abortion

Colorado personhood groups submitted signatures to the secretary of state’s office Monday in support of an effort to land an initiative on 2014 Colorado voter ballots that could ban abortion.

This is the fourth attempt by personhood groups since 2010 to pass a state constitutional amendment here that would grant “unborn human persons” legal rights.

The pre-born personhood concept raises broad practical, legal and ethical questions, many of which personhood groups have generally tried to play down in their politically charged amendment campaigns.

Earlier proposals have included language asking that human life be defined legally as beginning “from the moment of conception,” meaning fertilized human eggs would be protected by the law. Critics have said that the ramifications of such a sweeping change in the law could lead to dramatic, frightening and absurd conclusions that would see women’s rights diminish. Common contraceptions and stem cell research could be outlawed. Pregnant women might be brought up on charges for drinking or smoking or using drugs. They point to the 2009 case where Mississippi-resident methamphetamine-user Nina Buckhalter was brought up on manslaughter charges after delivering a stillborn baby.

But the personhood initiatives in Colorado have been better at making news than at winning public support. The 2008 and 2010 efforts lost by 3 to 1 margins, and the 2012 effort failed to gain enough signatures to make the ballot.

This year’s initiative takes a new tack. The same groups, led by Personhood USA, are now asking Coloradans to support the “Brady Amendment,” named after a fetus carried by Coloradan Heather Survoik, who was eight-months pregnant in 2012 when she she was injured in a car crash. The fetus didn’t survive the accident.

“A drunk driver killed Heather Surovik’s eight month old preborn son Brady but avoided prosecution because Colorado law doesn’t recognize Brady as a person,” reads the Personhood Colorado literature. “In honor of her son, Heather Surovik has initiated the Brady Amendment to recognize unborn babies as persons in law.”

The ballot initiative language approved by the state strikes the same notes:

“Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution protecting pregnant women and unborn children by defining ‘person’ and ‘child’ in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings?”

Many Coloradans won’t know that this past spring the state legislature passed a bill to “protect pregnant women” and provide them legal recourse if they lose their fetuses as the result of a crime.

The Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act was carefully crafted not to expose pregnant women victims or their doctors to legal proceedings — because the bill does not recognize fetuses, much less zygotes, as separate humans with their own legal status. So any crimes recognized under the law are crimes committed against the pregnant women, not against the fetus.

Observers say the groups behind the Brady Amendment likely succeeded in drawing enough signatures this year to make the ballot.

Democrats eyeing 2014 will see the Brady Amendment as a campaign bonus and a get-out-the-vote booster. The prospect that any kind of personhood law might pass energizes pro-choice voters, including women, who have become a crucial voting bloc here.

Republican strategists, if not Republican candidates, are likely already groaning. After leading the nation in 1990s Christian-right anti-gay and pro-life politics, Colorado has come to embrace platforms that champion individual rights and equality.

In recent years, conservative stands on social issues have dragged down promising candidacies. Women, minority and youth voters have sent Democrats to most of the major state offices for a decade. Most famously, they voted in large majorities for President Obama. And in Tea Party wave year 2010, they sent novice politician Democrat Michael Bennet to the U.S. Senate instead of Republican challenger Weld County D.A. Ken Buck.

Buck was unabashedly anti-abortion. He had signed that year’s personhood petition and supported it on the stump. Bennet’s campaign and its surrogates focused on those stands almost exclusively in the final months of the campaign.

[ Image by World of Oddy ]

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