News Abortion

Is Colorado’s ‘Personhood’ Amendment a Sweeping Approach to Ban Abortion?

Jason Salzman

A measure on the Colorado ballot has been compared to “fetal homicide” laws in dozens of states, but the measure is more far-reaching, and could subject pregnant women to prosecution for everything from choosing abortion to driving without wearing a seat belt.

Read more of our articles on Amendment 67 here.

Colorado voters will decide November 4 whether to expand the definition of a person in the state’s criminal code to include “unborn human beings.”

Backers of Amendment 67 argue that they aren’t aiming to ban abortion in Colorado, and they point out that “fetal homicide” laws in 38 states have yet to result in abortion bans, including laws in 24 states that give legal rights to fetuses at early stages of development.

But in a visit to Colorado during a campaign against the initiative, Lynn Paltrow, director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told reporters that Colorado’s Amendment 67 should not be compared to “fetal homicide” laws in other states because it’s unique among existing state laws in subjecting pregnant women to prosecution for almost any crime on the books.

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This is in stark contrast to other state “fetal homicide” laws that amend a small number of statutes, and many that explicitly exempt abortion as a reason for prosecution or exclude pregnant women as perpetrators.

“Amendment 67 is an entire overhaul of the criminal code,” Paltrow said. “That’s every statute.”

Paltrow presented a series of slides during a presentation with the text of common criminal statutes in Colorado: murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment.

She replaced the words “person” or “child” with “unborn human being.”

For example, you commit murder in Colorado if you intend “to cause the death of another person.” If “person” becomes “unborn child,” then abortion becomes murder, Paltrow said.

Paltrow showed a slide of Colorado’s child abuse statute, inserted “unborn human being” into the statute’s wording, and explained how the law, as changed under Amendment 67, could be used to investigate, prosecute, and arrest a pregnant women believed to have put her “unborn child” at risk.

“What they are asking the citizens of Colorado to do is put in place a set of laws that begins by saying, ‘We believe a woman who has an abortion is guilty of first degree murder and deserves either life in prison or the death penalty.’ There are no exceptions.”

“Anything that a woman does that someone later believes she shouldn’t have done becomes evidence of recklessness,” she continued. “Standing on a ladder. Painting your nursery at six-months pregnant and falling off. Skiing while pregnant. Driving without wearing a seat belt. Not obeying a doctor’s advice to get bed rest. Child abuse becomes fertilized-egg abuse.”

Asked if this could happen with Roe v. Wade on the books, Paltrow said, “As long as Roe lasts, this particular part of 67 might be considered unconstitutional, but our research has documented that there will be a prosecutor somewhere who, the minute this is passed, will apply the murder statute to a woman who has had an abortion or anybody who has helped her. And then that person will have a right to argue that Roe protects them, but they will be making that argument from a jail cell. Because in most states, if you are charged with the crime of murder, you’re not even entitled to bail. All it takes is one enterprising, election-hungry prosecutor.”

“The only thing that Roe protects is abortion,” Paltrow continued. “It doesn’t protect you against prosecution for still births or miscarriages or accusations of risk and harm, because remember that neglect and child abuse aren’t harm. They are risk of harm. The evidence of risk-of-harm from cigarettes is more than from criminalized drugs. So the prosecutor will start with the least popular women using the most unpopular criminalized drugs.”

Asked for a response to Patrow’s arguments, Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman for Amendment 67, emailed that she intended to comment, but she never did, after multiple requests.

In an email last month, Mason pointed to existing “fetal homicide” laws in other states and wrote that concerns about abortion being banned under Amendment 67 are a “common talking point for anti-life groups.”

Mason and other proponents refer to the measure as the “Brady Amendment,” referring to the name “Brady” chosen by Heather Surovik for her 8-month-old fetus, destroyed in 2012 by a drunk driver. Surovik survived the crash and talks about the tragedy at press events and legislative hearings.

Surovik has maintained that Amendment 67 is not intended to address abortion in Colorado or to subject pregnant women to prosecution. It’s about justice, she says.

“Who looks at Brady and says he wasn’t a person?” Mason has said.

“The irony is, if this amendment in Brady’s memory succeeded, what Brady’s memory would really be doing is creating a law that could have had his mother arrested even if she’d done absolutely nothing wrong or reckless,” said Paltrow, citing a New York case in which a pregnant woman was convicted of manslaughter of her own child after being in a car accident. “What the Brady Amendment would do is make mothers absolutely vulnerable to arrest themselves.”

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

News Abortion

Iowa GOP Legislator: Ending Legal Abortion ‘Impossible’ Without ‘Personhood’ Laws

Teddy Wilson

GOP-backed "personhood" laws have been an unmitigated failure. Voters in state after state have rejected by wide margins personhood ballot initiatives, and personhood bills have failed to gain traction in many legislatures.

An Iowa Republican plans to introduce a measure defining life as beginning at conception in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down an anti-choice Texas law, which has limited states’ ability to restrict abortion care access.

State Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) told IowaWatch that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt proves that the anti-choice movement’s attack on abortion rights is not working.

“The Supreme Court decision reinforced that incrementally ending abortion is impossible,” Schultz said. “You either have it or you don’t.”

So-called personhood laws seek to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as people, and to grant them full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

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GOP-backed “personhood” laws have been an unmitigated failure. Voters in state after state have rejected by wide margins personhood ballot initiatives, and personhood bills have failed to gain traction in many legislatures.

Personhood bills were introduced this year by Republican lawmakers in Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, and Rhode Island.

Rachel Lopez, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told IowaWatch that personhood measures are routinely introduced in Iowa but have failed to gain traction in the GOP-dominated legislature.

“Although we have not yet seen the details of this impending effort, we are confident that it also will fail to advance,” Lopez said. “Personhood bills are a waste of both time and taxpayer dollars, as they have failed time and again in Iowa and other states.”

Iowa lawmakers this year introduced SJR 2001, a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the state constitution specifying that the document does not secure or protect a fundamental right to abortion care.

SJR 2001 was referred to the senate rules and administration committee, but never received a hearing or a vote.

Schultz, who was elected to the state senate in 2014 after serving in the house, has sponsored or co-sponsored several anti-choice bills while in the state legislature, including personhood measures.

SF 478, sponsored by Schultz during the 2015 legislative session, would have defined “person” when referring to the victim of a murder, to mean “an individual human being, without regard to age of development, from the moment of conception, when a zygote is formed, until natural death.”

Mark Kende, director of Drake University’s Constitutional Law Center, told IowaWatch that Schultz’s proposal would not survive in the courts.

“He can try to pass that legislation but it certainly wouldn’t trump the federal Constitution,” Kende said. “Even if that language got into the state constitution it can’t defy three Supreme Court decisions in the last 40 years.”

Gov. Terry Branstad (R) told IowaWatch that he could not support Schultz’s proposal.

“I’m pro-life and I want to do what I can to encourage things that can protect the lives of unborn children,” Branstad said. “Yet I also recognize that we have to live with the restrictions that have been placed on the states by the courts.”

Branstad signed many of the state’s laws restricting abortion access that came up during the latter part of his first term as governor.