News Politics

Colorado’s ‘Personhood’ Amendment Defeated by Wide Margin

Jason Salzman

Voters in Colorado rejected a "personhood" ballot measure seeking to protect “pregnant women and their children” by defining “person” in Colorado's criminal code to include “unborn human beings.”

Read more of our articles on Amendment 67 here.

For the third time in the past six years, Colorado’s voters overwhelmingly defeated a “personhood” amendment on the state ballot.

“The people of Colorado have spoken again,” said Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, to a crowd of 200 supporters in a downtown Denver hotel Tuesday night. “I call on the proponents of Amendment 67 to stop trying to force their opinions on the people of this state and to start listening to the people of Colorado.”

“We have to do it again,” said Jennifer Mason, spokeswoman for the pro-personhood group, A Voice for Brady, when asked by Rewire if they would launch another initiative. “It’s necessary to protect women and children in Colorado and to continue to build on the ‘yes’ votes from people willing to vote their consciences. We haven’t won yet, but we will. People are starting to see that the outrageous claims of Planned Parenthood are not true.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Mason noted that the measure garnered 36 percent of votes cast, with 78 percent of votes counted, 7 percentage points more than 2010.

“That’s better than anyone expected here in Colorado, for an amendment without much financial backing,” Mason said.

The measure was initially supported by a majority of voters, according to internal surveys by Amendment 67 opponents, but a multi-pronged campaign by opponents, who outspent personhood backers 1,300-to-1, turned voters against the measure.

The Vote No 67 campaign raised more than $2.6 million to defeat the initiative, versus $2,000 for A Voice for Brady, the organization promoting Amendment 67, according to campaign finance reports.

“With the money we invested in this campaign, think of all the health care we could have provided in this state,” Cowart said at the Vote No 67 victory party. “Tomorrow, Planned Parenthood will open its doors, business as usual.”

“The fact that they had scare tactics and the story on their side meant we had to make the incredibly important investment to defeat them,” said Cathy Alderman, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

During the months leading up to the election, visible campaign activity in support of Amendment 67 appeared to be scant, while No on 67 activists staged rallies and news events, knocked on a half-million doors, sent a million pieces of mail, and spent $1.3 million on traditional and social media, Alderman said.

“We keep it quieter,” Mason said. “We have dedicated volunteers, and we organize a direct campaign with door knocking and canvassing.”

“I don’t know that the proponents expect to win at all,” Fofi Mendez, campaign manager for Vote No 67, told Rewire. “They do expect us to spend the resources and energy necessary to defeat it. What they don’t realize is that every time they fail, voters get clearer and clearer about wanting to keep their reproductive health decision private and not to support personhood.”

More than a dozen newspapers across the state editorialized against Personhood USA-endorsed Amendment 67.

Vote No 67 rallies and events featured Gov. John Hickenlooper and other politicians, doctors, religious leaders, and other prominent figures. For example, Dolores Huerta, an icon of the American civil rights movement, told a rally on a downtown Denver campus, “Amendment 67 is saying, ‘Go back to kitchen. Be barefoot and pregnant and don’t come back.’”

Amendment 67 would have expanded the definition of a “person” in Colorado’s criminal code to include “unborn human beings,” conferring rights on the unborn, possibly from the moment of conception, depending on legal interpretations of the measure’s vague wording.

As a result, a pregnant woman, whose fetus was injured or lost, could have faced criminal charges for recklessness or abuse. Prosecutors could have targeted pregnant women for everything from choosing abortion and driving without wearing a seat belt to recklessly painting the nursery, crossing the street, or skiing.

Amendment 67 would likely have criminalized behavior by pregnant women unlike any law in the country.

Backers of Amendment 67 in campaign materials responded by stating that “[P]olice have no reason to waste their time (and endanger their careers) investigating non-crimes!”

Colorado’s personhood supporters insisted that their goal was to enable prosecutors to press charges against, for example, a drunk driver whose reckless act causes a woman to lose her pregnancy. Under Colorado law currently, criminal charges can be filed against the drunk driver, but not murder, because the fetus is not considered a person or a victim of the crime.

Personhood proponents called their campaign “A Voice for Brady” in honor of an 8-month-old fetus, already named Brady, that was lost in a 2012 car accident involving a drunk driver.

Gwen Chermack of Personhood USA told supporters Monday in an email that regardless of the outcome of the election, “God has used YOU to help get the topic of abortion out and in the open. You have empowered us to get the message of standing for life with NO exceptions out to an amazing number of people. Your support has caused the platform of personhood to be one of the most important, most debated, and most publicized issues in these mid-term elections. “

That platform was created by the successful effort by personhood supporters to place the measure on the ballot. In fact, the most visible evidence of support for Amendment 67 was the submission of more than 139,000 signatures last fall, well above the 86,000 required to place the measure on the November 4 ballot.

That effort was powered by over 500 churches and 1,000 volunteers, organizers said at the time.

Personhood became a major issue in Colorado’s statewide races for governor and U.S. Senator, as GOP senatorial candidate Cory Gardner withdrew his longstanding support for the state amendments shortly after announcing his campaign to unseat Sen. Mark Udall, though Gardner remains a co-sponsor of federal personhood legislation.

After various explanations on their personhood stance, top candidates on both sides of the aisle in the gubernatorial and senatorial races opposed Amendment 67.

The wording of the 2014 amendment differed significantly from Colorado’s 2010 personhood measure, which was also backed by Personhood USA.

The 2010 initiative defined a “person” in the Colorado Constitution as “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.” The 2008 measure was similarly worded.

Asked what her experience fighting Amendment 67 means nationally, Planned Parenthood’s Alderman said, “We should be prepared for them to use deception and tragedy to push their agenda, and we should talk to talk to women about the values we know they hold.”

Culture & Conversation Abortion

With Buffer Zones and Decline of ‘Rescues’ Came Anti-Choice Legal Boom, Book Argues

Eleanor J. Bader

University of Denver's Joshua Wilson argues that prosecutions of abortion-clinic protesters and the decline of "rescue" groups in the 1980s and 1990s boosted conservative anti-abortion legal activism nationwide.

There is nothing startling or even new in University of Denver Professor Joshua C. Wilson’s The New States of Abortion Politics (Stanford University Press). But the concise volume—just 99 pages of text—pulls together several recent trends among abortion opponents and offers a clear assessment of where that movement is going.

As Wilson sees it, anti-choice activists have moved from the streets, sidewalks, and driveways surrounding clinics to the courts. This, he argues, represents not only a change of agitational location but also a strategic shift. Like many other scholars and advocates, Wilson interprets this as a move away from pushing for the complete reversal of Roe v. Wade and toward a more incremental, state-by-state winnowing of access to reproductive health care. Furthermore, he points out that it is no coincidence that this maneuver took root in the country’s most socially conservative regions—the South and Midwest—before expanding outward.

Wilson credits two factors with provoking this metamorphosis. The first was congressional passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994, legislation that imposed penalties on protesters who blocked patients and staff from entering or leaving reproductive health facilities. FACE led to the establishment of protest-free buffer zones at freestanding clinics, something anti-choicers saw as an infringement on their right to speak freely.

Not surprisingly, reproductive rights activists—especially those who became active in the 1980s and early 1990s as a response to blockades, butyric acid attacks, and various forms of property damage at abortion clinics—saw the zones as imperative. In their experiences, buffer zones were the only way to ensure that patients and staff could enter or leave a facility without being harassed or menaced.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The second factor, Wilson writes, involved the reduced ranks of the so-called “rescue” movement, a fundamentalist effort led by the Lambs of Christ, Operation Rescue, Operation Save America, and Priests for Life. While these groups are former shadows of themselves, the end of the rescue era did not end anti-choice activism. Clinics continue to be picketed, and clinicians are still menaced. In fact, local protesters and groups such as 40 Days for Life and the Center for Medical Progress (which has exclusively targeted Planned Parenthood) negatively affect access to care. Unfortunately, Wilson does not tackle these updated forms of harassment and intimidation—or mention that some of the same players are involved, albeit in different roles.

Instead, he argues the two threads—FACE and the demise of most large-scale clinic protests—are thoroughly intertwined. Wilson accurately reports that the rescue movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in hundreds of arrests as well as fines and jail sentences for clinic blockaders. This, he writes, opened the door to right-wing Christian attorneys eager to make a name for themselves by representing arrested and incarcerated activists.

But the lawyers’ efforts did not stop there. Instead, they set their sights on FACE and challenged the statute on First Amendment grounds. As Wilson reports, for almost two decades, a loosely connected group of litigators and activists worked diligently to challenge the buffer zones’ legitimacy. Their efforts finally paid off in 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court found that “protection against unwelcome speech cannot justify restrictions on the use of public streets and sidewalks.” In short, the decision in McCullen v. Coakley found that clinics could no longer ask the courts for blanket prohibitions on picketing outside their doors—even when they anticipated prayer vigils, demonstrations, or other disruptions. They had to wait until something happened.

This, of course, was bad news for people in need of abortions and other reproductive health services, and good news for the anti-choice activists and the lawyers who represented them. Indeed, the McCullen case was an enormous win for the conservative Christian legal community, which by the early 2000s had developed into a network united by opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights.

The New States of Abortion Politics zeroes in on one of these legal groups: the well-heeled and virulently anti-choice Alliance Defending Freedom, previously known as the Alliance Defense Fund. It’s a chilling portrait.

According to Wilson, ADF’s budget was $40 million in 2012, a quarter of which came from the National Christian Foundation, an Alpharetta, Georgia, entity that claims to have distributed $6 billion in grants to right-wing Christian organizing efforts since 1982.

By any measure, ADF has been effective in promoting its multipronged agenda: “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and the family.” In practical terms, this means opposing LGBTQ inclusion, abortion, marriage equality, and the right to determine one’s gender identity for oneself.

The group’s tentacles run deep. In addition to a staff of 51 full-time lawyers and hundreds of volunteers, a network of approximately 3,000 “allied attorneys” work in all 50 states to boost ADF’s agenda. Allies are required to sign a statement affirming their commitment to the Trinitarian Statement of Faith, a hallmark of fundamentalist Christianity that rests on a literal interpretation of biblical scripture. They also have to commit to providing 450 hours of pro bono legal work over three years to promote ADF’s interests—no matter their day job or other obligations. Unlike the American Bar Association, which encourages lawyers to provide free legal representation to poor clients, ADF’s allied attorneys steer clear of the indigent and instead focus exclusively on sexuality, reproduction, and social conservatism.

What’s more, by collaborating with other like-minded outfits—among them, Liberty Counsel and the American Center for Law and Justice—ADF provides conservative Christian lawyers with an opportunity to team up on both local and national cases. Periodic trainings—online as well as in-person ones—offer additional chances for skill development and schmoozing. Lastly, thanks to Americans United for Life, model legislation and sample legal briefs give ADF’s other allies an easy way to plug in and introduce ready-made bills to slowly but surely chip away at abortion, contraceptive access, and LGBTQ equality.

The upshot has been dramatic. Despite the recent Supreme Court win in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the number of anti-choice measures passed by statehouses across the country has ramped up since 2011. Restrictions—ranging from parental consent provisions to mandatory ultrasound bills and expanded waiting periods for people seeking abortions—have been imposed. Needless to say, the situation is unlikely to improve appreciably for the foreseeable future. What’s more, the same people who oppose abortion have unleashed a backlash to marriage equality as well as anti-discrimination protections for the trans community, and their howls of disapproval have hit a fever pitch.

The end result, Wilson notes, is that the United States now has “an inconstant localized patchwork of rules” governing abortion; some counties persist in denying marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples, making homophobic public servants martyrs in some quarters. As for reproductive health care, it all depends on where one lives: By virtue of location, some people have relatively easy access to medical providers while others have to travel hundreds of miles and take multiple days off from work to end an unwanted pregnancy. Needless to say, this is highly pleasing to ADF’s attorneys and has served to bolster their fundraising efforts. After all, nothing brings in money faster than demonstrable success.

The New States of Abortion Politics is a sobering reminder of the gains won by the anti-choice movement. And while Wilson does not tip his hand to indicate his reaction to this or other conservative victories—he is merely the reporter—it is hard to read the volume as anything short of a call for renewed activism in support of reproductive rights, both in the courts and in the streets.

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.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

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.