‘No Personhood’ Colorado campaign cautions against big government

DENVER– A rally hosted here Thursday on the steps of the capitol by this year’s “No Personhood Campaign” featured speakers who decried government intervention into citizens’ private lives and admonished overreaching political activists who would tap the organs of the state to solve perceived social ills.

“Government needs to stay out of my family decisions,” said one speaker.

“As a person of faith,” said another, “I’m troubled that some would take away our god-given right to make these kinds of personal decisions.”

“These aren’t decisions that should be made by politicians,” said a third, who argued that the decisions under discussion clearly belong to the realm of intimate topics best weighed by adults with their families and their spiritual leaders, not by officeholders or bureaucrats like those who manage traffic rules or regulate power plant emissions.

Yet, for now at least and likely for the foreseeable future, the No Personhood Campaign is far from any anti-government libertarian or Tea Party affair. It’s so far made up of 24 generally lefty organizations opposed to the “personhood” initiative that anti-abortion activists are attempting to land on voter ballots in Colorado for the third general election in a row.

Campaign coalition members include mostly medical associations and rights groups, like the American Fertility Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, the ACLU, One Colorado, Planned Parenthood and ProgressNow.

The personhood movement seeks to grant full citizen rights to fertilized human eggs as a way to outlaw abortion in all cases. But personhood could also outlaw some of the most popular forms of birth control, such as IUDs and the pill, and likely significantly curtail the state’s fertilization industry.

Personhood supporters have played down the larger likely effects of the initiative, emphasizing their contention that it would save fetuses and present a strong challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Keith Mason, co-founder of the Arvada-based national organization Personhood USA and one of the proponents of Colorado personhood initiatives in the past, told politics and criticism site The Awl in 2010, for example, that he didn’t want to speculate on possible ramifications. He said that the legal questions the initiative has generated– questions grave and petty, where women who miscarry due to substance abuse might face murder charges, for example, or where pregnant women might be allowed to drive in carpool lanes– can be worked out by the courts after Colorado’s constitution is amended and the law takes affect.

“It’s hypothetical,” he said, explaining that he preferred to “worry about the [legal] details later,” after the initiative passed.

Personhood Colorado submitted more than 112,000 signatures in support of its initiative to the secretary of state earlier this month, well more than the roughly 86,000 required this year to land on the ballot. The Secretary has until September 5th to verify the validity of the signatures. Supporters and opponents of the initiative equally expect it to make the ballot.

Indeed, personhood in Colorado has been as resilient a political movement as it has been unpopular among voters.

In 2008, Coloradans voted down the initiative 73 percent to 27 percent. In 2010, the year conservatives made historic gains across the country, Coloradans again overwhelmingly voted against it, 71 percent to 29 percent.

Increasingly, personhood is proving a briar patch for state Republican politicians. Colorado conservatives seem torn between a traditionally western libertarian small government strain on one side and on the other a Christian-right interventionist strain on social issues that has risen with the fortunes of the evangelical organizations based in Colorado Springs since the 1980s.

Most Colorado Republicans running for office in 2008, for example, opposed that year’s personhood initiative, arguing that it went too far. In 2010, however, almost every Republican candidate for federal and state office supported the measure– and many analysts believe the party suffered at least one key loss in Colorado as a result. U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck was stridently anti-abortion and initially a strong supporter of personhood and he lost the vote among women by a landslide to Sen. Michael Bennet, who only bested Buck among the general population by a few thousand votes.

This year, three of four of the state’s Republican congressional incumbents don’t seem to want to be pinned to the initiative. Congressmen Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton have yet to come out in support of the initiative, although Coffman and Gardner have been unabashed supporters of the initiative in the past. Joe Coors, candidate for the seventh congressional district, has refused to take a position, even though he donated $1000 to the initiative campaign in 2010. The candidates have avoided talking about the issue to news media.

The launch of the No Personhood Campaign comes just as the national news cycle is consumed with the politics of reproductive health.

Just days before the party’s presidential election year convention, Republican officeholders and candidates, including likely presidential nominee Mitt Romney, have rebuked staunch anti-abortion Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin for saying he thought that, in cases of what he called “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies prevented conception. Akin was blasted for being either uninformed or willfully confused about basic biological facts, but the intent of his comments– to play down the need for exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape– has been widely embraced by the party for years and this week was written into the party platform to be unveiled at the convention, which begins Monday in Tampa.

Crystal Clinkenbeard, Colorado’s No Personhood Campaign communications director, told the Independent that she hails from Missouri and was not in the least surprised by Akin’s remarks. She said the attention they have focused on the Republican Party’s position on reproductive health matters that include rape, contraception and abortion are long overdue.

“There couldn’t be a better time to launch our anti-personhood campaign,” she said.

Amy Runyon-Harms at Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, a Planned Parenthood political committee, agreed. She said she hoped that, when formulating policy stances on reproductive health issues, including personhood, Republican politicians would start to lean more on the views of their constituents and less on the views of anti-abortion activists.

“We have yet to see an outpouring of support from Republicans for our [No Personhood] campaign,” she said smiling, “but I think they understand that the initiative does not reflect Colorado values. It’s just not what Colorado voters want. So, while they’re not coming out publicly on our side of this issue, I don’t think they’re going to necessarily side with the personhood supporters.

“Colorado will play a huge role in the election in terms of how personhood relates to other contests. As we’ve seen, women here in particular realize that a candidate’s values matter,” she said, referring to the Buck-Bennet race. “If a candidate supports personhood, women will see him or her as out of touch.”

[ Image of rally protest sign by the Colorado Independent. ]