Failed in other states, Personhood USA makes Colorado a national battleground

Colorado has become “ground zero” for the personhood movement in the United States, according to opponents of the initiative. And with funds coming in from out-of-state organizations to bolster both sides of the constitutional fight to redefine the term “person,” the state has become a flash point for a potential ethical wildfire.

A NO on 62 rally against the Personhood Amendment. (Photo by Joseph Boven)
Colorado’s Amendment 62 (pdf), the Personhood Amendment, has become the last amendment standing in a multi-state push by Personhood USA, among other groups, to change the definition of “person” to encompass zygotes in state constitutions. The amendment would ban abortion, many forms of birth control and embryonic stem cell research.

And while Personhood USA Co-founder Keith Mason refused to comment for this article, Personhood Colorado Director Gualberto Garcia Jones and Fofi Mendez, campaign manager for the personhood opposition group No On 62, said Colorado is a tactical battleground for the issue in the country.

“I think that Colorado has been a battleground, in fact, we have been ground zero for Personhood USA’s attempt to get [personhood] passed in multiple states,” Mendez told the Colorado Independent.

Personhood USA states that it is a “grassroots Christian organization founded to establish personhood efforts across America to create protection for every child.”

Jones agreed that Colorado is a battleground state, but he said that’s true of a host of issues, including personhood. He pointed to a blend of “East Coast liberal values” and “Mid-West family values” found in the state as the cause and added that the campaign has learned lessons from Colorado it will carry on to other states.

Jones, who is also part of the leadership of Personhood USA, said the Colorado initiative has taught them that the key to a successful campaign is grassroots organizing.

“There is that idea of trickle-down economics; well, I think that this is like trickle up politics,” Jones said. “When you are formidable, politicians will come on board. Some will peel away, but most of them realize that their base is our people.”

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of American, told the Colorado Independent that her own organization was using similar tactics by working on the grassroots level in many states to ensure women’s rights are protected. “We take this very seriously. We want to send a message not only here but around the country that this is not supported by the American people.”

Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, agrees: “All affiliates that are facing personhood measures, we are in touch. We do have a strategy. We realize the opposition has a multi-year, multi-state plan, and we are going to fight it no matter what.”

That seriousness on both sides of the debate can be seen in donations from organizations with concerns that are as much local as they are national.

The No on 62 campaign has brought in close to $450,000 dollars to date, with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains being the largest donor, according to Mendez. Still, Planned Parenthood affiliates in California gave early in the campaign to help jumpstart the coalition’s efforts.

“All of those Planned Parenthood affiliates, of course, recognize that they may be experiencing this at some point since Personhood USA has said that they want to bring this to every state in the nation,” Mendez said.

Secretary of State records show that as of July 15 the No on 62 campaign had brought in $45,020. Of that sum, $20,000 came from Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino counties in California, $5,000 from Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project/ LA County Action Fund, and $9,500 from other Planned Parenthood affiliates in California. The ACLU of Colorado gave $10,000.

Despite out-of-state contributions, Cara DeGette, spokeswoman for the No on 62 campaign, said the real “nuts and bolts organizing” to fight the initiative is occurring here in the state and is supported by a broad base of 58 organizations.

Personhood Colorado’s reports showed the issues committee had received $74,619.83 in contributions as of July 15. Of that total, $33,698.59 was in the form of non-monetary contributions from Personhood USA. A further $10,000 was donated by the national pro-life group the American Life League.

Jones said current Personhood Colorado donation figures had yet to be tallied but said the distribution of contributors was likely similar to those in past filings.

While similarly worded initiatives supported by Personhood USA failed to reach the ballot in Alaska, Nevada and Missouri, the group has lauded Colorado as a place where its grassroots and organizational efforts have pushed personhood onto the ballots and to the voters.

Erik Maulbetsch, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, however, pointed to other logistical reasons personhood will reach voters this year.

“Colorado has a low signature threshold for ballot initiatives to make changes to our constitution,” Maulbetsch said. “While this does allow small groups of zealots such as the so-called “personhood” proponents to place their dangerous initiative on our ballot, voters will once again reject this tired attempt to force extreme religious views into the Colorado Constitution.”

Jones in turn said if conservative gubernatorial candidates Republican Dan Maes and American Constitution Party Tom Tancredo’s supporters shows up to the polls in November, personhood should fair well.

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