Activists led by Personhood USA submitted 139,650 signatures Monday to Colorado’s Secretary of State, over 50,000 signatures more than required to put their “fetal homicide” amendment on the 2014 election ballot.
At a news conference, backers of the measure insisted that this year’s campaign is different from “personhood” abortion bans, defeated overwhelmingly in the state in 2008 and 2010, which would have defined life in the Colorado Constitution as beginning at conception.
If this year’s measure makes the ballot, voters would be asked if they want to protect “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.”
In contrast, the 2010 personhood measure, also backed by Personhood USA , would have defined a “person” in the Colorado Constitution as “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.” The 2008 measure was similarly worded.
“This amendment by itself cannot ban abortion, but it recognizes that someone who kills an unborn child should be held accountable,” Jennifer Mason, a spokesperson for the amendment’s backers, told RH Reality Check, adding that additional legislation would be required to ban abortion in Colorado.
But pro-choice advocates say the ballot language is so vague that, if passed, a judge’s interpretation of the phrase “unborn human beings” could lead to an eventual ban on some, if not all, abortions in Colorado, where abortion is legal throughout pregnancy.
In fact, Personhood USA assured its supporters in a July email that the measure was “personhood” in a different package.
“Just as we saw in years past, the new ballot language is misleading, deceptive and dangerous,” said Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, in a statement. ”When Coloradans know the truth, they vote to allow a woman to make decisions about her health with her family, her doctor, and her faith, and without intrusion from the government, courts or lawyers.”
Cowart says a 2013 Colorado law already allows law enforcement officials to press charges in cases where a pregnancy is terminated as a result of reckless or criminal behavior.
Personhood USA objects to this new law because it does not establish an “unborn baby” as a possible victim of a crime, only the pregnant woman. In fact, the law sidesteps the abortion issue and specifically does not “confer the status of ‘person’ on any human embryo, fetus, or unborn child at any state of development prior to live birth.”
“We saw him on the ultrasound,” Heather Surovik told reporters in front of the Secretary of State’s Office Monday, referring to her fetus, who died last year after a drunken driver struck Surovik and ended her pregnancy. “I knew he was a person.”
But Colorado law doesn’t recognize her fetus as a person, Surovik said, and that’s what she wants changed. So Surovik says she teamed up with Personhood USA to launch what they promote as the “Brady” Amendment, the name she intended to give her child.
Regardless of the impact of the proposed amendment on a women’s right to choose in Colorado, most political observers think it would be unlikely to pass, even with the new language.
“If there’s an improvement in this proposed ballot language versus that of 2010 and 2008, it is extremely incremental and at the margins,” Eric Sondermann, president of SE2, a political consulting firm, and a widely quoted political observer in Colorado, told RH Reality Check. “Had these past elections been very close, two-point races, then incremental, marginal improvements in wording might matter. But given that the proponents have yet to even get to a minimal 30 percent threshold among Colorado voters, I’d suggest that their challenge extends way beyond framing and phraseology.”
“There are elements of the pro-life / pro-choice debate on which Coloradan voters are closely divided,” Sondermann added. “But the personhood proposal is not one of them. You can dress this one up with bells and whistles or word it in pig Latin and it will still be a non-starter.”
When asked why she thinks the amendment will pass next year, in light of past failures, Surovik said, “God has had a hand in this. By the grace of god, we’re going to get this on the ballot and get it passed.”
More than 500 churches and 1,000 volunteers were part of the organizing effort to collect the 139,650 signatures submitted Monday, said Don Veazey of Tri-Town Baptist Church, where Surovik is part of the congregation.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has 15 to 20 days to determine if enough valid signatures were submitted Monday to put the amendment on the ballot.
Another Personhood USA-backed initiative narrowly failed to make the ballot last year.