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Abortion access in the U.S.

2007: Proposed Colorado constitutional
amendment #48 to outlaw abortion. Part 1

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Referendum proposal:

Colorado for Equal Rights -- a pro-life group -- proposed a referendum to implement a "Personhood Amendment." It would redefine the term "person" at three places in the Colorado Constitution. The wording is:

"SECTION 1. Article II of the constitution of the state of Colorado is amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION to read:
Section 31. Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms "person" or "persons" shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization. 1

The referendum text contains the misunderstanding that that fertilization ocurrs at an instant of time. This is a widespread belief, but wrong. It happens slowly.

The group obtained two unanimous approvals for the referendum from the state's Title Board. However, the petition was appealed on the basis that it dealt with more than one issue. 2

On 2007-NOV-13, the Colorado Supreme Court approved the referendum's wording. The group needed to collect 76,000 affirmative signatures from state citizens, in order for the question to be placed on the 2008 ballot. The group expected to collect about 100,000. signatures. If approved, it would change the state constitution to:

 "...include any human being from the moment of fertilization as a ‘person’...in those provisions of the Colorado Constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law." 3

That is, pre-embryos, morulas, blastocysts, embryos, and fetuses would be guaranteed the same rights as newborns, children and adults.

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Implications of the referendum:

Kristi Burton, a 20-year-old law student, heads Colorado for Equal Rights. She, her group, and their web site are not discussing the changes that would result if the referendum were passed. She notes that the constitutional amendment:

"...doesn't outlaw abortion, it doesn't regulate birth control. It's just a constitutional principle. We're laying a foundation that every [human] life deserves protection. ... We'll see what happens after that." 4

Author's note: Actually, a good case can be made that an ovum and spermatozoa are both forms of human life, just like a zygote (commonly called "fertilized egg) and a blastocyst implanted in the wall of the uterus (commonly called a pre-embryo), and an embryo, fetus, newborn, child and adult. All are alive and all contain human DNA. In fact, so does a skin scraping, and a cancerous growth. The pro-life movement has little interest in preserving some of these forms of human life. In spite of the terminology that they use, they are only concerned with preserving the life of human persons. The fundamental question is when does human life in the form of an ovum and spermatozoon become a human person? Most pro-lifers believe it happens during the process of fertilization; most pro-choicers say it happens later.

If the referendum were passed, then certain devices and actions would apparently be criminalized in Colorado. Individuals could be prosecuted for committing first class, premeditated murder. This would seem to include the following:

bullet All abortions would be criminalized, including those needed to save the woman from death or permanent crippling disability. Also all abortions to terminate pregnancies arising from rape or incest would be considered premeditated murder.

bullet Ectopic pregnancies (a.k.a. tubal pregnancies) could not be terminated. Ectopic means "out of place." It involves an embryo that implants itself outside the uterus -- most commonly in a fallopian tube. According to the KidsHealth web site:

"As the embryo grows, it will eventually burst the organ that contains it. This can cause severe bleeding and endanger the mother's life." 5

Treatment involves the removal and resultant death of the embryo. The only alternative is to do nothing except perhaps to pray, give comfort care, and allow both the woman and embryo to inevitably die.

bullet The use of emergency contraception (EC), commonly called the morning-after pill (MAP), because, according to many pro-life groups, there is a small possibility that it could prevent a blastocyst -- a pre-embryo -- from implanting itself in the wall of the womb. Scientists have shown that this is an extremely unlikely event or impossible, but this condlusion is rejected by most pro-lifers.

bullet The use of IUDs as a birth control device, because they can prevent an existing fertilized ovum from implanting.

bullet The practice in infertility clinics of discarding surplus embryos. These clinics often harvest 20 or so ova, fertilize them, and select about three of the healthiest embryos for implantation. The rest are either frozen for future use or discarded. Freezing results in the deaths of some embryos, either at the time of freezing, or later if the embryos are thawed out. The clinic would be forced to implant every embryo that they produce, even if it is defective.

bullet The extraction of stem cells from embryos donated for research by the parents would be criminalized.

bullet Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis which prevents birth defects by eliminating genetically defective embryos would also be criminalized.

bullet Future treatments and cures for debilitating diseases and disorders through the use of embryonic stem cells might be criminalized.

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Reactions:

  • Colorado for Equal Rights -- a group favoring the Personhood Amendment stated:

    • "This amendment will establish a cornerstone for protecting human life in our society... and we all know this is the right thing to do. This campaign is not about the power of money... it is about the power of truth. We are giving Colorado voters an opportunity to vote their conscience and protect the most innocent and helpless ones among us. If life is protected from the very beginning, Colorado for Equal Rights believes that we can transform our nation from a culture of death into a culture of life. Therefore, we are taking the necessary action to allow Coloradoans to guarantee every person equal rights under our laws." 6

  • An article in the Socialist Worker opposed to the amendment stated:
    • "Anti-choice activists claim these laws are about protecting the 'life' and 'personhood' of a fetus. In reality, they would take away the 'personhood' of women--by reducing a woman to the equivalent of a walking uterus and potentially making it illegal for her to take any action (like the use of an intra-uterine device or oral contraceptives) that might interfere with the ability of a fertilized egg to implant itself." 3

    As in the case of emergency contraception, researchers have shown that interference with implantation is an extremely unlikely event or an impossiblity.

  • KMGH-TV conducted an informal poll among visitors to its web site. They asked "Do you consider a fertilized egg a person?" By the end of 2007-NOV, 3,076 votes were cast: 47% voted yes; 47% voted no, and 6% were undecided. 4 This is a politician's nightmare.

  • Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist pastor, endorsed the measure on 2008-FEB-25. 7

  • The fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family announced that it would support the referendum if it appeared on the ballot. On 2008-AUG-05, their senior bioethics analyst, Carrie Gordon Earll, said:
    A founding principle of Focus on the Family—and a driving belief of Dr. Dobson's—is that all human life is sacred and that life begins at the single-cell stage of human development. Amendment 48 articulates this belief and challenges us to declare the inestimable worth of all members of the human family. The foundational message of Amendment 48 is clear: All human life has value. Colorado voters should support Amendment 48, and vote for it in November. 7
  • The Rocky Mountain District Council of the Assemblies of God -- a fundamentalist Christian denomination with 119 churches in Colorado --unanimously passed a resolution in support of the measure. 7

  • Michael Hichborn, a spokesperson for the American Life League, said:

    "Now, amazingly there are those that claim that now is not the right time for a personhood amendment. The old saying attributed to Edmund Burke 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing' is well applied to those standing on the sidelines because they decided to do just what Burke warned against. They're simply doing nothing. And while they sit on their hands waiting -- organizations like NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW are working to ensure another 35 years of killing babies." 7

  • Leslie Durgin, former mayor of Boulder, head of the "Protect Families Protect Choices" campaign, and senior vice president for community development at Planned Parenthood for the Rocky Mountains said:

    "We want to let people know that the language is very deceptive and is dangerous to women's health in this state. This is something that shouldn't be in our state constitution." 7

  • Dr. Mary Fairbanks, a family practitioner, said:

    "The moment of fertilization is not a medical definition and is almost impossible to determine outside of a petri dish. So defining a person that way interferes with a lot of things including the practice of medicine. Medical providers who treat women of reproductive age would be at heightened risk of lawsuits if the care they provide could potentially affect a woman's fertilized egg."

  • Cathryn Hazouri, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said:

    "They are using this so-called legal strategy in order to invalidate a woman's right to privacy and a woman's right to choose." 7

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This topic is continued in Part 2.

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Related essays:

bullet Laws restricting abortion in the U.S. and Canada
bullet Anti-abortion bills in various states
bullet Roe v. Wade: Its basis; court philosophies; political aspects
bullet The future battle over women's access to abortion; The impact if Roe v. Wade is overturned

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Language of Colorado's Human Life Amendment," Colorado for Equal Rights, at: http://www.coloradoforequalrights.com/
  2. "Colorado Supreme Court gives green light to restore personhood to the unborn," Colorado for equal rights, 2007-NOV-13, at: http://www.coloradoforequalrights.com/
  3. "Giving equal rights to frozen embryos?," Socialist Worker, 2007-NOV-30, at: http://www.socialistworker.org/
  4. "Court: Wording Of Anti-Abortion Measure Is Legal. Ballot Measure Would Define Fertilized Egg As Person," KMGH-TV Denver, CO, 2007-NOV-13, at: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/
  5. "Ectopic Pregnancy," Kids Health for Parents, 2004-MAY, at: http://www.kidshealth.org/
  6. "Life Counts!," Colorado for Equal Rights, at: http://www.coloradoforequalrights.com/
  7. "Colorado Definition of Person Amendment, Amendment 48," BallotPedia, as at 2010-JUN-03, at: http://www.ballotpedia.org/

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Copyright © 2007 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-NOV-30
Latest update: 2010-JUN-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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