Scrambling the ‘Egg-as-Person’ Ballot Measure

A veritable who’s who of reproductive health champions filed a legal challenge with the Colorado Supreme Court late yesterday to stem a proposed ballot measure that would advance anti-abortion law and limit access to some contraception methods.

The action is designed to thwart a proposed state constitutional amendment that was initiated by the recently-formed Colorado for Equal Rights. The group won approval last month to begin collecting ballot petition signatures to ask Colorado voters to decide: is a fertilized egg a person with legal rights and Constitutionally-protected due process?It’s likely that this is just the first skirmish in a series of legal battles and political moves.

Reached by phone late Wednesday, Katie Groke Ellis of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains noted a long pattern of ballot flip-flops by conservative groups. A trial balloon measure with far more extreme language is first introduced to gauge voter mood only to be abandoned for a new initiative several months later with what appears to take a more moderate stance. A series of state measures from 1994-2000 that sought to ban abortion outright but settled on chipping away at it via funding cuts, parental notification and other limits bears out Ellis’ concern.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court challenge was filed on behalf of seven Colorado women all long time advocates of reproductive choice: Ellen Brilliant (affiliation unknown); Trudy Brown (affiliation unknown); Toni Panetta (NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado); Lizzy Annison (Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains); Vicki Cowart (Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains); Cathryn Hazouri (American Civil Liberties Union); and Jacy Montoya (Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights).

The opponents’ concerns were outlined in a press release issued by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains:

Defining a fertilized egg as a person in the state constitution would have sweeping consequences.

“As providers of reproductive health care Planned Parenthood is gravely concerned about what this measure could mean for women using birth control to prevent unintended pregnancies, as well as couples using in vitro fertilization to start their families,” said Annison. “We are still trying to understand the implications for giving an egg access to the courts by granting ‘equality of justice’ and protecting its ‘due process of law.’ Defining an egg as a person in the Colorado constitution is extreme.”

The most recent legal challenge comes in response to the state Ballot Title Board’s rejection of a complaint last week that the proposed measure violated the single-subject rule and is deceptive in its purpose. Colorado for Equal Rights spokesman Mark Meuser has repeatedly stated publicly that the measure is designed to ban abortion and limit access to contraceptives in direct contradiction to the strict rules governing ballot language.

The three-member title board, led by Deputy Secretary of State William Hobbs and two male panelists, was criticized by reproductive health advocates in news accounts last week for inaccurately referring to the focus of the measure as a “fetus” rather than the biologically correct and less politcally-charged term “fertilized egg.”

The approved ballot language is detailed on the Colorado for Equal Rights web site:

Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Colorado:

SECTION 1. Article II of the constitution of the state of Colorado is amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION to read:

  Section 31.  Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of article II of the state constitution, the terms “person” or “persons” shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.

The amendment proponents have six months to successfully obtain 76,000 valid petition signatures to get the measure before the voters in November 2008.

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