What do you get when you combine the claim of protecting women, a vague ballot initiative concerning “unborn human beings,” and an email with the subject line, “Praise God! 139,650 Signatures Submitted In CO”? You get a run-up to an even-year election in Colorado!
This week, “personhood” returned to Colorado with a vengeance, when pro-personhood groups turned in almost 140,000 signatures to get a vaguely worded, deceptive initiative on the 2014 ballot. If this all sounds familiar to you, it’s because this has happened EVERY EVEN YEAR since 2008, and every year it’s been on the ballot it has lost with over 70 percent of voters rejecting it. Because, GUESS WHAT? Coloradans don’t want “personhood” to be the law here. We don’t want an egg to be considered a person at the moment of fertilization; we don’t want to force women who become pregnant as a result of violent acts rape or incest to have to give birth; and we don’t want birth control pills and emergency contraception to be illegal. The concept that women can be trusted to make their own health care decisions is apparently still a radical idea to a small percentage of Coloradans, who make us show up to vote every other year to remind them that their outlook on women’s health is far out of the mainstream.
Similar to other years this initiative has been proposed, the 2014 iteration of “personhood” sounds a little different than those that came before it. Proponents are using the tragic case of Heather Surovik losing her pregnancy because of a drunk driver to tell a story that passing “personhood” in 2014 is about protecting women, and not the fourth attempt to insert politicians into women’s personal medical decisions in Colorado.
But the proposed 2014 initiative is the exact same as its predecessors in a few ways:
1. The wording is intentionally vague as to confuse voters AND ensure that the amendment will have to be interpreted broadly enough to define a person from the moment an egg is fertilized
2. Proponents are claiming the initiative is about protecting women, but their materials rarely refer to women, and instead talk about how all embryos are people at moment of fertilization. (My personal favorite is this Colorado Right to Life fact sheet explaining the 2014 amendment, which says using the term “fertilized egg” is the same as using a racial slur from the Vietnam era that starts with ‘g’ and claims incest exists because abortion is legal.)
3. The problem the proposed initiative claims to fix isn’t a problem at all. In past years, “personhood” backers wanted to solve the problem of women having access to legal abortion, birth control, and in-vitro fertilization procedures (which some of us wouldn’t call a problem, but whatever). This year, they say they are only putting it on the ballot again so that horrible and tragic crimes like the one that caused Heather Surovik to lose her pregnancy can be prosecuted. The asterisk they leave out is that House Bill 1154, sponsored by Mike Foote, was passed and signed into law this year. The specific intent of this bill was to close the loophole in the criminal statutes that meant someone who acted negligently and caused a woman to lose pregnancy could not be charged with any crime on top of the illegal action itself. I know it seems boring and makes your eyes glaze over when anyone starts talking about criminal code, but both parties in the Colorado state legislature realized the loophole in the law needed to be FIXED and so 1154 passed with bipartisan support, meaning that tragic crimes like the one that caused Heather to lose her pregnancy at 8 months can be prosecuted. This is a good thing, and I think most Coloradans would agree when I say House Bill 1154 is a necessary bill that needed to pass.
The real reason pro-personhood forces are running this ballot initiative –again– is because they do not believe House Bill 1154 went far enough in making personhood the law in Colorado. They think that Representative Mike Foote’s bill, which fixed a real problem that existed in Colorado law, giving prosecutors more tools to get justice for pregnant women, is not acceptable because it didn’t define a person from the moment an egg is fertilized. Forget the fact voters have said, overwhelmingly, that they think personhood goes too far; the strategy of these folks is to throw everything at the wall to see if they can get anything to stick.
If the real goal of this initiative is to make sure women like Heather Surovik get justice for the horrible crime they were a victim of, the initiative would be worded in a way that talked about the criminal code, or crimes at all, or maybe even women who are victims of those crimes. Instead, this initiative paints the issue with such a wide brush, it has to be intended to go further than just cases like Heather’s. They want to pass the most far-reaching law concerning women’s medical decisions and health care in the country, and they want to do it here in Colorado under the promise that they just really, really, want to protect women.
I don’t think Coloradans are going to fall for it. It’s not like we haven’t seen it before.
Laura ‘Pinky’ Reinsch writes for the Colorado Independent’s blog, “The 99%.” She is currently the Political and Organizing Director at NARAL Pro- Choice Colorado, working on reproductive health, rights and justice issues. She was born and raised in Colorado Springs, got her nickname and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and has been organizing around issues of economic, social and reproductive justice organizing for a little over ten years, she thinks. Her favorite color is pink and some of her other favorite things include drinking Moscow mules, anything related to Harry Potter, rooting for the Broncos and animated gifs. You can reach Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @pinklaura