Anti-Abortion Ballot Measure Draws Foes, Advocates Inside Conservative Circles

The 35-year battle to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision is once again firmly planted in women’s wombs. This time, instead of directing their wrath at women’s clinics, abortion foes are targeting a much different constituency — fertilized eggs.While Colorado for Equal Rights continues to collect petition signatures to place a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot recognizing the “personhood” of fertilized human eggs, questions are being raised about the motives behind the group and who’s truly calling the shots.

“The whole issue really saddens me,” says Sigrid Fry-Revere, the Cato Institutes’s director of bioethics, the nation’s top libertarian think tank devoted to civil liberties and economic issues. “I am strongly against abortion on moral grounds. I do believe that a fertilized egg is a person; a human from the point of conception. But I don’t believe that person has the same legal rights as the mother. And that’s where all the problems come in.

“When there is a conflict between the rights of two people, she continues, then certain people’s rights take precedence. I don’t know how you could possibly not choose the woman’s rights over that of a human being that’s just developing.

“Who in the hell is the legislature or anyone in the government to take decisions like that away from us?,” asks Fry-Revere. “They are horribly, horribly difficult decisions. And yet, I think, they are life and death decisions. But I think they are very personal. Sometimes they have to do with religion and sometimes they don’t.”

She likens the civil liberty implications to women becoming communal property — mere incubators — unable to decide their own reproductive futures should voters approve the proposed law.

It’s easy for the bill’s proponents to dismiss concerns like Fry-Revere’s as hysterics straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale, a fictional story of a young woman’s subjugation when she is forced to bear children in a future theocratic regime. But the comparison fades when one starts scratching the surface of the issue and sees the fracturing between the hard-line versus very hard-line anti-abortion Christian movements in their support of civil rights for fertilized eggs.

The National Right to Life Committee, long known for its conservative Bible-based stance to end abortion, has taken a much more incremental approach by pushing for strict regulation and even stricter social policies such as parental notification, waiting periods and a ban on Medicaid funding.

State anti-abortion groups aren’t quite so charitable about the national group’s strategy. Or patient.

Steve Curtis, former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, founded American Right to Life Action in November 2007 after meeting with a coalition of dozens of local abortion foes. Structured as a section 527 political committee — named for the IRS code that governs its activities — the new group will challenge the anti-abortion Christian street cred of the National Right to Life Committee while having a hand in state matters, like the “personhood” ballot measure.

When the Denver-based group isn’t airing anti-Mitt Romney ads in the early primary states, it’s taking to task Bob Jones III, chancellor of the ultra-conservative evangelical university bearing his name, and controversial pundit-author Ann Coulter for aiding and abetting the ex-Massachusetts governor’s candidacy. Curtis says he supports perennial GOP candidate Alan Keyes — who curiously was in town when the Colorado Supreme Court announced its surprise decision to allow the ballot measure to move forward. Keyes later took the dais in support of Colorado for Equal Rights at a Nov. 13 press conference.

However, one of the primary thrusts of American Right to Life Action is to challenge the “wicked courts” and oppose “child-killing regulations” through state-based laws attempting to overturn Roe v Wade primarily via the fight for fertilized egg rights:

The personhood wing of the pro-life movement is on the advance, and the child-killing regulators are on the defensive. As we press that momentum, at the same time, we will be educating everyone, unbelievers, Christians, governing officials, and ministry leaders, about the primacy of the God-given right to life, and the inherent failure, egotism, and immorality of negotiating that right away for some supposed benefit.

Other proponents of the measure, like Daniel Becker of Georgia Right to Life, have claimed in press statements that the goal is to introduce “personhood” initiatives in 30 states by either constitutional amendment, like Colorado, or direct action as expected this month in Georgia’s newly convened 2008 state legislative session.

Thus far, activists in Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon and Wisconsin, in addition to Colorado and Georgia, are taking up the cause for egg rights.

Meanwhile, Kristi Burton, a 20-year-old law student was quoted in a Dec. 3, 2007, Chicago Tribune article claiming that “she came up with the idea for the initiative about a year ago on her own” and founded Colorado for Equal Rights to advance the proposal. In more than a dozen media stories about Burton and her group, she has never acknowledged the support of abortion foes like American Right to Life Action or other controversial activists.

For instance, Colorado for Equal Rights’ own field coordinator, Keith Mason, is also working with Keep Peace in Stapleton, a Denver anti-abortion group that organizes protests against the new administrative headquarters for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, including targeting the home of a local building subcontractor with the “Truth Truck,” plastered with huge pictures of aborted fetuses. Mason, who hails from Kansas, is identified in several photographs on the Operation Rescue Web site as a “Truth Truck” driver in Wichita who was confronted by police for violating a local ordinance.

Colorado for Equal Rights did not return an email requesting comment on the progress of the ballot petition process, critics charges about the ballot measure or its involvement with Christian activist groups to shed more light on the origins and intent of the measure.

Next: Constitutional law scholars weigh in on the legal controversies surrounding egg “personhood” and more from Cato’s bioethics expert.