What Now? Colorado Groups Seek “Personhood” For Cells

Joseph Boven

A new version of the anti-choice initiative soundly defeated by Colorado voters in 2008 is making its way to the 2010 ballot. The intention? To grant cells the full spectrum of citizen rights.

A version of the anti-abortion initiative soundly defeated by Colorado voters in 2008 is making its way to the 2010 ballot, this time reworked as an “egg-as-a-person” initiative.

This new version would move the legal definition of a person further
back into the reproductive cycle, granting cells the full spectrum of
citizen rights. Opposition groups, including Colorado genetic and
fertilization researchers, say the law would have spiraling
consequences, that it would put women at risk and freeze current work
in medicine and reproduction.

zygote

Colorado Right to Life and Personhood USA, the groups behind proposed Initiative 25,
are undeterred by the fact that Coloradans voted against the test-run
amendment last year by a margin of three to one. The new amendment is
even farther reaching, moving the initial marker for the beginning of
life from “fertilization” to “the beginning of the biological
development of a human being.”

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Personhood Colorado Director and the initiative proponent Gualberto Garcia Jones
told The Colorado Independent that the change was made “to be more
comprehensive in our definition of a person” and was not done to make
it more appealing to voters.

“It’s intended to account for human beings who may be created
through asexual reproduction in laboratories and used as raw material
for research, organs, or stem cells. Fertilization would not have
properly applied to asexually reproduced humans, but even asexually
reproduced human beings have a definite biological beginning,” Jones
explained.

“Over half-a-million Coloradans voted for the personhood initiative
in 2008,” Jones said in a press conference announcing the campaign.
“Their votes acknowledging the God-given right to life of the pre-born
revolutionizes the pro-life movement and encourage us toward victory. ”

Science stoppage

Johnathan Van Blerkom, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Colorado
in Boulder, said if the personhood initiative were passed and upheld,
it would have negative consequences for those not only involved in
embryonic stem cell research but also for individuals looking to
participate in in-vitro fertilization programs.

“To begin with [embryonic] stem cell research would stop,” Van
Blerkom said. “There would be no research in genetics in the causes of
the origins congenital diseases that occur in humans, how to fix them,
how to protect them early.”

“You would find in this state, myself included, that embryo research
would freeze. If there were criminal penalties or you were lumped
together with abortionists for looking at embryos that are discarded
because they are abnormal and you want to know why they are abnormal …
no one is going to do it.”

Van Blerkom who works at a fertilization clinic as well, said that
in-vitro fertilization would likely end in the state. He explained that
the very process of fertilization can kill the embryo if more than one
sperm gets into the egg. He said legal liability would loom over all
procedures.

“It’s criminal liability. So would any program want to freeze an
embryo in the state of Colorado? If the embryos die, as they frequently
do when they are thawed, is that your responsibility? Is it an act of
God? An act of science?”

Women’s rights

Monica McCafferty, media relations specialist for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the slightly modified language does nothing to protect the rights and safety of mothers.

“The new initiative has the same goal [as Amendment 48], to ban all abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the woman is in danger.”

McCafferty said that the language is vague and misleading but the ramifications are clear. “This would have huge implications.”

The legislation would end women’s right to choose in Colorado but
would also hamper their ability to take many forms of birth control.
McCafferty said the law would create major government intrusions into
private lives.

“Coloradans have said time and again that they don’t want government
or the courts in their lives when it comes making these personal
private decisions.”

Jones frankly agreed. He said the goal of the amendment was to
provide a child in the womb with due process and equality of justice.

“If passed, the Personhood Amendment would regain the state’s right
to extend protections broader than those granted by the U.S.
Constitution, and it would help transform our current decadent culture
which currently values a person’s utility instead of their innate worth
as a human being.”

But Jones didn’t agree that the language was vague.

“We have proposed a very simple, level-headed definition of what a
person is. Namely, a person is a human being from the very beginning of
his or her biological development.”

During the 2008 debate over the personhood initiative, Jessica Berg, professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University,
told NPR that fertilized eggs in fertility clinics might need to be
counted on the census and that pregnant women presumably could use the
high-occupancy traffic lanes. There are absurdities that grow out of
this kind of thinking, she said.

“If you don’t know you’re pregnant and you drink or do something
dangerous — or you do something problematic very early on, and you’re
in Colorado or even passing through Colorado — have you committed child
abuse and endangerment?”

Power politics

Asked why voters did not support the initiative in the past Jones
told The Colorado Independent that the initiative fell victim to power
politics.

“We realize that there are very large political and corporate
interests that will do everything in their power to twist this simple
proposition into ludicrous scenarios. We’ll be more aggressive this
time around in addressing those scare tactics.”

He said that with groups such as Planned Parenthood heading up a
coalition of groups to oppose the initiative — last year’s coalition
was called Protect Families, Protect Choices — the “pro-abortionists have almost unlimited funds.”

“You see, killing babies pays. Saving babies doesn’t.”

Jones said Planned Parenthood had taken in more than $1 billion in 2008.

Rewire recently reported, however, that anti-abortion rights groups are not hurting for funds.

Wendy Norris, former editor for The Colorado Independent, wrote that personhood groups have brought in almost $58 million in donations. The American Life League, an organization where Jones recently served as legislative director, has brought in more than $35 million since 2003.

National drive

Emilie Ailts, executive director of Denver-based NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado,
said that the initiatives are part of a nationwide attempt to advance
personhood legislation. She said that Personhood USA initially had
hoped to introduce legislation in 29 states but that Personhood USA now
seems ready to mount grassroots efforts in only nine states.

Aits said that the initiative would change the Colorado Constitution in 20,000 different places.

“People can not even prognosticate how once it was fully implemented
how it would affect peoples lives. It would impact so many laws.” She
said it would impact not only fertilization and stem cell research but
also access to many forms of birth control in the state.

NARAL, like Planned Parenthood and the Republican Majority for Choice banded together with the Colorado Bar Association and 90 other groups, many which do not normally deal with reproductive issues, to create Protect Families, Protect Choices, Aits said. Like last year, she expects the same groups to oppose the measure should it make its way onto the ballot.

“Everyone saw this as something so draconian in 2008 that it would
have very negative impacts on the lives of women and their families in
the state of Colorado.”

McCafferty said that while Protect Families, Protect Choices worked
diligently to oppose last years personhood initiative, it was the
Colorado voters who made the decision to reject the amendment.

Jones said he is confident his measure will pass.

“With so much money comes a lot of influence, earned and bought
media, and friends in high places. Against this, personhood only has
one thing, the truth. The amazing thing is that it is only a matter of
time before we prevail.”

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

News Abortion

Study: Telemedicine Abortion Care a Boon for Rural Patients

Nicole Knight

Despite the benefits of abortion care via telemedicine, 18 states have effectively banned the practice by requiring a doctor to be physically present.

Patients are seen sooner and closer to home in clinics where medication abortion is offered through a videoconferencing system, according to a new survey of Alaskan providers.

The results, which will be published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, suggest that the secure and private technology, known as telemedicine, gives patients—including those in rural areas with limited access—greater choices in abortion care.

The qualitative survey builds on research that found administering medication abortion via telemedicine was as safe and effective as when a doctor administers the abortion-inducing medicine in person, study researchers said.

“This study reinforces that medication abortion provided via telemedicine is an important option for women, particularly in rural areas,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, one of the authors of the study and professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). “In Iowa, its introduction was associated with a reduction in second-trimester abortion.”

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Maine and Minnesota also provide medication abortion via telemedicine. Clinics in four states—New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington—are running pilot studies, as the Guardian reported. Despite the benefits of abortion care via telemedicine, 18 states have effectively banned the practice by requiring a doctor to be physically present.

The researchers noted that even “greater gains could be made by providing [medication abortion] directly to women in their homes,” which U.S. product labeling doesn’t allow.

In late 2013, researchers with Ibis Reproductive Health and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health interviewed providers, such as doctors, nurses, and counselors, in clinics run by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands that were using telemedicine to provide medication abortion. Providers reported telemedicine’s greatest benefit was to pregnant people. Clinics could schedule more appointments and at better hours for patients, allowing more to be seen earlier in pregnancy.

Nearly twenty-one percent of patients nationwide end their pregnancies with medication abortion, a safe and effective two-pill regime, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alaska began offering the abortion-inducing drugs through telemedicine in 2011. Patients arrive at a clinic, where they go through a health screening, have an ultrasound, and undergo informed consent procedures. A doctor then remotely reviews the patients records and answers questions via a videoconferencing link, before instructing the patient on how to take the medication.

Before 2011, patients wanting abortion care had to fly to Anchorage or Seattle, or wait for a doctor who flew into Fairbanks twice a month, according to the study’s authors.

Beyond a shortage of doctors, patients in Alaska must contend with vast geography and extreme weather, as one physician told researchers:

“It’s negative seven outside right now. So in a setting like that, [telemedicine is] just absolutely the best possible thing that you could do for a patient. … Access to providers is just so limited. And … just because you’re in a state like that doesn’t mean that women aren’t still as much needing access to these services.”

“Our results were in line with other research that has shown that this service can be easily integrated into other health care offered at a clinic, can help women access the services they want and need closer to home, and allows providers to offer high-level care to women from a distance,” Kate Grindlay, lead author on the study and associate at Ibis Reproductive Health, said in a statement.

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