Wendy Norris is a freelance writer from Denver, Colorado. Her work can also be read at the public policy blog, Unbossed.com. She will be covering the "egg-as-person" movement for Rewire in the coming months.
DENVER – A resurgent movement to place
"personhood" measures on state ballots across the nation to ban
abortion and comprehensive reproductive care could have far more sweeping
implications than the trial balloon Colorado voters soundly defeated last year.
Far from being dissuaded by the 3-to-1 loss from their 2008
campaign to confer zygotes with legal rights, abortion opponents are regrouping
with a broader initiative that purports to address life span issues, from
conception to death.
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The proposed 2010 constitutional ballot language – "the
term ‘person’ shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the
biological development of that human being" – was submitted Thursday for initial
review by the Colorado Legislative Council.
The new tack avoids previous efforts to redefine person as
"any human being from the moment of
fertilization" – phrasing that rankled even its supporters as too
Shaded beneath the state capitol’s famed golden dome and
cradling his 10-day-old son, Gualberto Garcia Jones, 31, said announcing the
"And the important thing to
keep in mind, if you honestly and unbiasedly read the language – this is about
the full spectrum of human development. It includes the very early stages.
But it’s also about children who
are born with disabilities and are stripped of their personhood. It’s about
handicapped people who are stripped of their personhood. It’s about the elderly
that are dying and who lose their personhood when they go into some form of a
When asked how such a wide-ranging law could be implemented,
Jones, a lawyer and former legislative analyst for the anti-abortion group,
American Life League, said:
"We’ll leave it to the courts
to interpret the language of the proposed amendment … We have faith that our
legislators will be able to implement this in a consistent manner with respect
for all human beings regardless of how they come about in their creation."
Last year’s ballot opponents claimed that adding a
religiously-inspired definition to the Colorado constitution would affect
more than 20,000 references to the term "person" in local and state
all-encompassing "personhood" strategy
This new hard-line rhetorical stance is a radically
different approach than the 2008 campaign, headed by Peyton, Colo., resident
Kristi Burton, a telegenic online law school student, who furiously back-peddled
from controversial early campaign statements that Amendment 48 sought to
outright ban abortion and contraception.
Now, all bets are off. The new campaign leadership assured
supporters that Burton will advise the team but her "muddled"
communication goals won’t be repeated.
Jones, a conservative Catholic, said he welcomed a debate
about a contraception ban as an effect of the personhood cause:
"What this amendment does is
protect all human beings," he said. "Something that is erroneously
referred to as contraception causes the early human to die because they cannot
develop in the uterus. And, then yeah, this would prohibit it. We’re more than
happy to talk about that."
The conflation of contraception with abortifacients is a
well-used tactic by those who oppose abortion under all circumstances.
Combining the orthodoxy of hard-line opposition to
comprehensive reproductive care with controversial end-of-life issues is a new
strategy in the "personhood" movement that could be designed to
appeal to the fast-growing voting bloc of religious Hispanics, whom Jones, a
native of Spain, expressed particular interest in reaching out to.
The new strategic approach also appears to stem from a
chance encounter amidst the spectacle of one family’s personal tragedy turned
national political sideshow.
Jones met long-time Colorado Right to Life activist Leslie
Hanks in March 2005 while protesting at the Florida hospice where Terri
Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman at the center of a fierce right-to-die court
battle, re-ignited the social conservative movement.
Jones and Hanks struck up a friendship. Later, he moved to
Denver after leaving ALL to work on a 2006 South Dakota abortion ban campaign
and then a low-profile campaign job to help Burton pass Amendment 48. While Hanks
had a prominent public role, opponents of the 2008 effort do not recall seeing
Jones on the stump until now.
anti-abortion groups join forces
The 2010 campaign will be backed by Personhood USA, a new
national nonprofit organization formed from the ashes of Burton’s Colorado for
Equal Rights, whose supporters were linked to militant anti-abortion groups,
like the Army of God.
The Denver-based Personhood USA is headed by former Wichita resident and ex-Operation Rescue "truth
truck" driver Keith Mason, and Michigan
anti-abortion activist Cal Zastrow. Veterans of the failed Colorado campaign,
the two men most recently were involved in the unsuccessful 2008 South Dakota
citizen-initiated abortion ban and failed legislative actions in Montana and
North Dakota earlier this spring.
Now they have plans to deploy platoons of
"personhood" activists in 17 states to effectively ban abortion,
oral/device contraception, in vitro fertilization, and embryonic stem cell
research should they prevail to win civil rights for fertilized eggs. And if
Jones’ press briefing comments are any indication, they may take on disability
advocacy groups and the burgeoning end-of-life care movement, as well.
In addition to Colorado, a 2010 "personhood"
initiative in Montana was launched July 1 under the same auspices of broader
language though the speech-making to introduce the campaign did not use the
same anti-contraception and life span rhetorical flourishes employed by Jones.
Schisms continue over
religious support for "personhood" and litmus tests
Mason noted that the local campaign counts among its
supporters Jones’ former employer, the American Life League, and Hanks’ group Colorado
Right to Life, whose long-standing feud with Focus on the Family founder James
Dobson for not being anti-abortion enough is the stuff of local legend.
Jones will head the Colorado affiliate of Personhood USA.
Mason dismissed any lingering flack between Focus and American
Right to Life Action, another backer of "personhood" strategies, whose members
were arrested and jailed after failing to pay a trespassing fine following
the group’s Sept. 4 sit-in protest at the evangelical Christian ministry and
publishing empire’s Colorado Springs headquarters. He anticipates Focus will
again be on board with the new campaign. "They’re bigger than that,"
he said "They’ll do the right thing."
But not everyone in the faith community is enthusiastic
about the proposal and some will continue to oppose it.
The Colorado Catholic Conference refused to endorse the
2008 measure over concerns about "the timing and content." A
spokeswoman for the state’s three Catholic bishops, well-known for their
conservative social stances and willingness to insert themselves into political
controversy, told the Denver Post that Amendment 48 backers "seriously
misrepresented" the church, contradicting campaign claims that the
bishops officially supported the cause.
Jeremy Shaver, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance
of Colorado which participated in the "No on 48" campaign
unequivocally stated his group’s opposition to the renewed
understanding of what they’re trying to do is insert a particular religious
definition of life in the state constitution," said Shaver. "Many
people of faith don’t believe state law should be based on religious doctrine
or religious belief. We need to base our state law on what’s in the interest of
the common good.
believe it’s a violation of religious freedom for all Coloradans and it’s a
danger to do so."
Shaver said he is especially troubled by the new life span
"End of life decisions are
also among the most personal decisions that we will make. Those decisions need
to be made personally by individuals and their families and cannot and should
not be made for us by politicians who seek to impose a religious agenda."
Unflagged, the "personhood" proponents soldier on
while its advocates continue to grapple with the practicalities of the cause.
In a telling 2008 Q&A exchange, on the conservative
religious television network EWTN Kids Web page, the American Life League’s
Judie Brown admits the legal murkiness of "personhood" to a
reader questioning whether to impose capital felony sentences on abortion
providers and women patients or merely misdemeanor penalties:
personhood is restored to all human beings prior to birth, we will have to wade
through the minefield of criminal penalties and how they should be applied …
Gualberto Garcia Jones points out, "Criminal law is almost always about