Life Begins at Gunception: CO Recall Election Moves from Second Amendment to Personhood Debate

Campaign mailers underlining the anti-abortion views of Republican state senate candidates Bernie Herpin and George Rivera reportedly landed in southern Front Range voter mailboxes over the last two days, stoking flames in the already hot recall elections organized in response to gun-control legislation passed in the spring.

“Bernie Herpin supports a plan that would deny women access to common forms of birth control,” says one of the mailers. “He could even allow police officers to investigate women who have suffered a miscarriage…Vote No on the recall.”

The Colorado Independent obtained a copy of the mailers sent to District 11, where Herpin is running to replace Democratic Senate President John Morse. The Independent has yet to recieve a copy of the mailer sent to voters in District 3, where Rivera is hoping to replace Democratic Senator Angela Giron.

The Herpin mailer refers to his support as city council member of the “personhood” movement, which seeks to outlaw abortion by granting full legal rights to fertilized human eggs, or “life from the moment of conception,” as supporters put it. Analysts have said personhood would amount to sweeping changes in the law, where countless statutes would have to be reworked and legal interpretations extended broadly and perhaps to absurd ends, where not only birth control would be outlawed but also where activities like drinking, smoking and raw-cheese eating, for example, could turn pregnant women into suspects or criminals.

Groups have tried and failed three times in recent years to pass a constitutional amendment to make personhood the law in Colorado. Voters in conservative Mississippi also solidly rejected a personhood proposal in 2011.

The Herpin mailers come from a group called We Can Do Better Colorado, which first registered with the secretary of state on the last day of July. Registered Agent Josette Jaramillo’s Huffington Post contributor-bio lists her as a Pueblo native, county worker and local public-employee-union president. She has written at Huffington Post about the politics of reproductive rights.

We Can Do Better’s contribution report won’t be available to the public until the end of September, weeks after the September 10 elections are over. But We Can Do Better is a so-called 527 committee dedicated to addressing an issue, in this case reproductive health, and barred from coordinating with any candidate. Issue committees can spend as much as they can take in and never reveal their donors. The recall elections could well draw other committees in the coming weeks similarly organized around topics like guns and gays and god.

Republican George Rivera, a longtime Pueblo police officer who retired as a deputy chief, brushed off the mailers Friday on Twitter, calling them “desperate” and a “shell game” being played by Giron.

“I make no apologies for my belief in the sanctity of life,” he wrote.

But Rivera takes a hardline stance on the abortion debate, even for a conservative, and reproductive rights are sure to be one of the issues that will concern voters in Pueblo.

Rivera signed last year’s personhood petition, called Initiative 46, which would have outlawed abortion categorically, including in cases of rape and incest.

“This provision Rivera signed onto would ban common forms of birth control and would allow police to investigate a woman if she has a miscarriage,” says Jennie Peek-Dunston, campaign director for Pueblo United. “It’s something Colorado voters have rejected multiple times and indicates that he’s just not in touch. ”

“Look, that’s what I believe, but on the other hand it’s not like I’m going to make that a burning issue to present or champion,” Rivera told the Independent. “It’s important, but my platform at this point mainly has to do with the Second Amendment rights and other things that have affected Pueblo, like water and renewable energy.”

Peek-Dunston said the recall election has to be about many issues, because it’s about who will represent all of Pueblo and all of Pueblo’s interests at the capitol.

“I think it shows that there’s a bigger picture to these elections,” she said, referring to the uptick in interest about candidate positions on reproductive rights. “[The elections] will affect a whole host of issues including a woman’s ability to make her own healthcare decisions.”  

In Colorado Springs, Herpin is sure to have to revisit the issue of reproductive rights soon.

In a recent Colorado Springs Independent Q&A piece, Herpin and Morse were asked generally about the Brady Amendment, yet another version of the personhood amendment introduced last spring.

“Petitioners are once again seeking to put a ‘personhood’ issue on the ballot, which would declare a fetus to be a full citizen,” the Springs Independent asked. “What is your stance on this issue and on reproductive rights in general?”

“The personhood issue has been decided by Colorado voters before,” Herpin said. “Under state law, people can choose to petition for it to be on the ballot again. If they do, it will be in the hands of the voters again.”

Herpin’s measured response makes sense for a candidate running on a recall platform that has centered around the right of constituents to express their views on the issues and be heard by their representatives.

But this isn’t the first time Herpin has answered questions about abortion. In a “Pikes Peak Citizens for Life” survey given to city council members in April, he was much more frank.

He identified himself as pro-life, over and above any political party affiliation, and supported government protection for life beginning at single-cell development. He also agreed that the “government does not have the authority to declare any part of the human family to be non-persons,” an assertion used in a variety of personhood petitions.

In his answers to the survey, Herpin agreed to never vote for nor to appoint to a position anyone who supports Roe v Wade.

But he said he didn’t support the kind of laws that would force women seeking abortions to view ultrasounds of fetuses and that would outlaw embryonic stem cell research.

Herpin didn’t answer calls Thursday from the Independent seeking comment.

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