Reproductive rights advocates
around the country cheered the sound defeat of Amendment 48, Colorado’s
November 2008 ballot initiative to grant personhood rights at the moment
of conception. This victory was due in part to messaging that resonated
with two voting blocs that are not often identified as dependable pro-choice
voters – Latinos and labor union members.
Instrumental to this message
development was the work of Denver-based Colorado Organization of Latinas
for Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). Led by workers’
rights activist Daniel Gonzales, COLOR’s No on 48 campaign developed
messages addressing the rights of families and the hardships Amendment
48 could pose to working people.
Gonzales polled 608 likely
Latino voters in Colorado and found that about half were staunchly against
abortion, while the other half were pro-choice but supported some regulation
of abortion. Voters represented in his poll responded positively to
messages framing Amendment 48 as an affront to the rights of families
and working people, whereas messages that focused on individualistic
reasons for rejecting Amendment 48 did not resonate as well.
Based on this poll, COLOR’s
No on 48 campaign literature included the following messages:
Even if I would not have
an abortion myself I respect and support other families’ decisions
to do what is right for them, and
Families should be in charge
of their own healthcare decisions. Amendment 48 would
allow the government to make these decisions instead, and
Amendment 48 would grant
constitutional rights to fertilized eggs. It would eliminate a family’s
right to make personal private decisions about their future and their
"We knew we needed to use
empathetic messages that emphasized family decision making over the
individual," Gonzales said. "We also used those messages when talking
to union leaders and union members, and that helped us get labor unions
By contrast, mainstream reproductive
rights groups developed messages about Amendment 48 that focused on
individual rights, such as:
Amendment 48 affects important
life decisions that should be made by individuals, their doctors, and
families, not extremists rewriting the state constitution;
Amendment 48 would eliminate
a woman’s right to make personal private decisions about her own body
and her health.
The coalition to defeat Amendment
48 was broad, consisting of both mainstream reproductive rights organizations
like Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and NARAL Pro Choice
Colorado, Republican Majority for Choice, religious groups like the
Colorado Interfaith Initiative, as well as COLOR.
If passed, Amendment 48 would
have amended the Colorado State Constitution to define the term "person"
as "any human being from the moment of fertilization." The amendment
and would have given zygotes, embryos and fetuses "inalienable rights,
equality of justice and due process of law" and would have resulted
in the criminalization of hormonal birth control, emergency contraception,
and all abortions, even in the case of incest or rape.
Personhood initiatives like
Amendment 48 have not yet succeeded in part because they tend to divide
pro-lifers. Colorado’s Amendment 48 failed to gain support of Republican
United States Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, and the Catholic Church
refused to weigh in on the measure. Colorado and Georgia are the only
states that have acquired enough signatures to qualify personhood measures
for the ballot.
Though Amendment 48 did seem
menacing to the pro-choice community initially, having received over
double the required petition signatures in order to secure a spot on
the ballot, and having survived a legal challenge under Colorado’s
single subject rule, it was defeated 77% to 23%.
According to Gonzales, pro-family
messaging as well as the extreme nature of the measure helped the No
on 48 campaign acquire unlikely allies in the Latino and labor communities,
which evolved into a coordinated get out the vote effort.
COLOR, along with Denver workers’
rights groups 9 to 5 and FRESC for Good Jobs and Strong Communities,
persuaded the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to sign on
the No on 48 campaign. One key message COLOR posed to labor unions explained
the implications Amendment 48 could have on their own members, such
as unionized first responders.
"We explained to union groups
that their own members like EMTs and fire fighters would have difficulty
doing their jobs since Amendment 48 could force them to assume that
every woman they treat is pregnant," Gonzales said.
Labor unions also agreed to
support the No on 48 campaign because mainstream reproductive rights
groups signed on to defeat anti-union initiatives.
"When meeting with unions
we pointed out that COLOR and other reproductive rights organizations
have already been working hard to defeat anti-union initiatives,"
said Carmen Rhodes, Executive Director of FRESC, pointing out that Planned
Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains gained permission from its board of
directors to help defeat at least one anti-union initiative. "It was
clear that if we wouldn’t have come together, we may not have won
on any of our initiatives."
Despite its success in securing
SEIU support, the No on 48 campaign fell just two votes shy of receiving
an official AFL-CIO endorsement. Had it formally endorsed the No on
48 campaign, the AFL-CIO’s campaign literature would have included
a No on 48 message.
Nevertheless, COLOR and its
labor allies engaged in aggressive door-to-door canvassing with campaign
literature that grouped the No on 48 message with no-vote messages about
four workers’ rights initiatives: Amendment 46, an anti-affirmative
action measure; Amendment 47, a right to work initiative; Amendment
49, which prevented employees from taking paycheck deductions to contribute
to their labor unions; and Amendment 54, which prohibited unions from
contributing to political causes. All five of these Colorado initiatives
were listed in the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s Top Ten Worst
Initiatives. All but Amendment 54 were defeated.
COLOR’s pre and post election
polling shows that Latinos shifted from 31% no on 48 to 51% no on 48.
There are currently no such statistics reflecting turnout among union
voters. However, the joint literature and canvassing effort bolstered
turnout on all of these initiatives.
"A lot of the initiatives
on the ballot were bad for our community," Rhodes said. "As a community,
we focused on how to create synergy around issues that weren’t core
to our work but attack our common values."