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‘Personhood’ Backers in Colorado Push Ballot Initiative to Define ‘Person and Child’

Jason Salzman

The new measure's language is more obtuse than the personhood initiatives of 2008 and 2010, enabling law enforcement officials to prosecute people who commit crimes against "unborn human beings."

Organizers of two failed “personhood” ballot initiatives in Colorado have launched another petition drive to put a so-called fetal homicide measure on the 2014 election ballot.

Unlike the personhood initiatives in 2008 and 2010, which explicitly aimed to give legal standing to a zygote (fertilized egg) and thus would have banned all abortion and some forms of birth control, the new measure’s language is more obtuse, enabling law enforcement officials to prosecute people who commit crimes against “unborn human beings.”

The phrase “unborn human beings” isn’t defined in the text of the initiative, leaving open the possibility that all stages of human development, from zygote through the end of pregnancy, could be considered by courts as “people” and receive legal protections under Colorado law.

That’s why Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains sees the fetal homicide initiative as another attempt to codify personhood in Colorado, according to Planned Parenthood spokesperson Monica McCafferty.

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McCafferty points out that if the intent of the fetal homicide initiative was actually to make it a crime to recklessly terminate a pregnancy (for example, if a drunk driver hits a pregnant women), then the backers of the measure would have supported a bill passed by the Colorado legislature Friday that does just that. The legislation, called the “Crimes Against Pregnant Women” bill, is awaiting the signature of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Personhood supporters did not support the “Crimes Against Pregnant Women” legislation and instead threw their support behind a competing bill, defeated by Democrats who control the Colorado legislature, that mirrored the language of their fetal-homicide initiative.

Unlike the initiative, the “Crimes Against Pregnant Women” legislation specifically does not “confer personhood, or any rights associated with that status, on a human being at any time prior to live birth.”

In contrast, the key provision of the personhood-backed ballot initiative reads:

In the interest of the protection of pregnant mothers and their unborn children from criminal offenses and negligent and wrongful acts, the words “person” and “child” in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act must include unborn human beings.

At the launch of its petition drive last month, personhood activists heard from Heather Survoik, who was hit by a car when eight-months pregnant, resulting in the death of the fetus, which she had already named “Brady.” Hence personhood activists are referring to their petition drive as the “Brady project,” or the Brady amendment, according to Personhood USA spokesperson Gualberto Garcia Jones.

Asked if he thought his proposed amendment would be more successful than personhood measures defeated in 2008 and 2010, Garcia Jones said, “The prior amendments were more abstract. This is more specific. The opposition will have a harder time saying that this is an effort to criminalize women. We’re talking about protecting unborn children and their mothers who have no recourse for death of their babies.”

“Brady and all unborn children should be considered persons,” Garcia Jones, one of the amendment’s two sponsors, told Rewire, adding that the courts have specifically asked for clarification of the terms defined in his measure, which is titled, “Definition of Person and Child.”

In fact, the definition of a person will be the real issue confronting Colorado voters, if Garcia Jones collects enough signatures to put the initiative on ballot next year.

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