Struggling ‘personhood’ forces face determined opposition

On Friday, Personhood Colorado turned into the Secretary of State 79,817 signatures in support of its initiative– not even 4,000 more than the 76,047 needed to land its proposed anti-abortion “personhood” proposal on the ballot in November. Thousands of signatures are routinely thrown out in the process of validating initiative petitions. The group’s amendment seeks to grant fertilized human eggs the full spectrum of rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens. The difficulty its sponsors seem to have had gathering support suggests the idea they are promoting is no more attractive now to Coloradans than it was in 2008, when they defeated a similar proposal in a landslide vote.

Gualberto Garcia Jones
Gualberto Garcia Jones

Gualberto Garcia Jones, Director of Personhood Colorado,  told the Colorado Independent that he felt “great” about turning in the required number of signatures. “It’s been a six month effort. We have worked with nearly no funds and we are really spread thin as we are helping all the other states [on their personhood initiatives].”

Jones said he has worked only with volunteers to gather the signatures and that this would be the first initiative ever to make it onto the Colorado ballot without the help of paid signature gatherers. He said his organization was now preparing to make its case to the voters.  

A growing spectrum of initiative opponents say the law would alter more than 2000 Colorado statutes, that it would end in-vitro fertilization and stem-cell research, and that it would severely limit the rights of pregnant women in the state.

“Given that in 2008, 70 percent of Colorado Voter– that’s 1.7 million people– rejected the amendment, we are pretty confident that the people of Colorado will again say that this goes too far,” said Jacinta Montoya Price, representative of Protect Families Protect Choices coalition.  “Coloradans have said they don’t want the government interfering in their private decisions. We will continue to work against the extremists who think that their religious dogma should be entered into our state constitution.”

Dr. Savita Ginde, medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said that the initiative would “insert a non-medical, non-scientific definition into the state constitution” and so will have “far-reaching consequences on important life decisions in areas of practice that go far beyond the issue of abortion.”

“This amendment would threaten religious freedom in Colorado and take away a woman’s right to make decisions about her own healthcare with her doctor, her family, and her God, without government intrusion.” said Rev. Dr. Phil Campbell, board member of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and director of Ministry Studies at the Iliff School of Theology.

Amanda Mountjoy, president of the Republican Majority for Choice, said the initiative was the work of a fringe group.

“Changing our state constitution is a serious matter that should not be manipulated by fringe special interest groups with a narrow, single-issue agenda.  Our state constitution is not the place or the vehicle to mandate private healthcare decisions, which are often some of the most complicated choices facing families.”

At a signature-gathering rally held last month at the capitol by Personhood USA and Colorado Right to Life, five legislators took the opportunity to sign petitions in support of the initiative. A crowd of roughly 700 supporters chanted “Hey hey! Ho ho! Roe V Wade has got to go!”

GOP Sens. Dave Schultheis, Scott Renfroe, Kevin Lumberg and Reps. B.J. Nikkel, Amy Stevens were joined by Republican Fourth District Congressional candidates Tom Lucero and Cory Gardner.

Schultheis told the Colorado Independent he thinks the organization was right to try again to pass an anti-abortion amendment in 2010.

“I think that it’s warranted,” he said. “To me it is unconscionable to deny the fact that life begins at the moment of conception. We all know it deep down and there are too many who continue to resist for ideological reasons. But the truth is the truth and you can not deny it. So at some point it will win.”

Renfroe agreed. 

“I think it is a shame that we have allowed the killing of so many babies over the years. And the science shows assuredly that it is a life and that we should protect it. That is why I support the personhood initiative.”

State Sen. Pat Steadman, who attended a Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains celebration the evening before the rally and actively worked against personhood initiatives in the past, told the Colorado independent that the people behind the initiative were working against the wishes of the public. She said it was frustrating.

“I can’t fathom what part of no the proponents don’t understand when 70 percent of the electorate rejected their stupid idea.”

Doug McBurney, conservative talk show host and one of the directors of Colorado Right to Life, told the Colorado Independent that, in effect, it didn’t matter what the public wanted for now, that it was a moral issue.

“We are here to stand against the most diabolical crime ever committed against mankind: legalized abortion. All of the wars and atrocities don’t even equal it… This is the greatest drive for human rights in the history of the world,” he said. 

In fact, he said, supporters of the initiative were fighting not “man’s cause” but “God’s cause.” He said they were not afraid to speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Eve C. Gartner, deputy director of litigation for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that personhood laws like the one proposed for Colorado would effect more than abortion.

“It looks to be able to ban contraception, abortion, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research but it would have impact outside reproductive law, as well– property law, tax law– nobody really understands the scope of it.”

She said that, should the initiative pass, the state’s courts would be kept busy determining the implications.

Vicki Cowart, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, stressed the need for women in Colorado to continue to have access to the full range of legal health care options. She said abortion was just one of those options and that Planned Parenthood along with a coalition of other groups are prepared to defeat a personhood initiative shouod it reach the ballot.  

“So here we are in Colorado and we are going to face this so-called personhood amendment again, but that is clearly an effort to make government interfere with people’s lives and decisions and health choices.”

She argued that the Colorado initiative was actually part of a “very clear nationwide strategy” to pass personhood legislation in order to get a case to the Supreme Court.

“I think we have to be very concerned about what today’s supreme court would do with Roe. We have a much more conservative court than we did.”

Price told the Colorado Independent that Protect Families Protect Choice coalition planned on actively fighting against the ballot initiative. “They submitted just enough signatures that may require a line by line review by the secretary of state so there is a chance we will challenge the signatures they submit.”

Jones said that they have been getting ready for the line by line review for the last few days. “If that happens they will give us a 15 days to make up the difference. We are already organizing for that possibility.”

Montoya Price, of Protect Families Protect Choices, said that if the initiative does make its way to the ballot, their coalition will be ready.

“We are prepared to amount a defense using the resources and common ground that we have with religious groups, Republicans, Latino organizations, with doctors and medical groups, and a wide swath of groups that believe that this should not be part of our state constitution.”

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