ELECTION '10: Definition of 'person' is on Colo. ballot
Posted on Sep 24, 2010 | by Michael Foust
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories examining issues involving this year's election.
DENVER, Colo. (BP)--Two years after losing in an election climate that was unfavorable for conservatives, pro-lifers in Colorado are back this year with another ballot initiative that would answer a simple question: What is a person?
Amendment 62, as it is called, would amend the Colorado constitution so that it defines a person as "every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being." Such a statement may seem like common sense to many Americans, but actually is quite controversial and, if upheld, would have a dramatic impact on the state's abortion laws.
In 2008, a similar proposal -- the first of its kind on a statewide ballot -- lost, 73-27 percent. Although it didn't come close to passage, it sparked a nationwide movement that saw personhood amendments pass the North Dakota House and the Montana Senate in 2009. Neither bill went any further, but it showed that the issue was not limited to Colorado. Mississippi citizens, for instance, will vote on a personhood initiative in 2011, thanks to a successful petition drive.
Amendment 62 is the only abortion-related question on the ballot in any state Nov. 2. If it passes, a lawsuit against it is likely.
"Amendment 62 would restore the dignity to all preborn children and it would correct a dubious legal notion that a preborn child is property rather than a person," Keith Mason, manager of the Amendment 62 campaign, told Baptist Press. "Legally speaking, preborn children are able to be killed by abortion because they are considered property of the mother and not a person.... It will bring the arguments of personhood to court for the first time since Roe vs. Wade."
Ironically, the personhood movement got its inspiration directly from the text of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. In his majority opinion, then-Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun acknowledged that if the definition of "personhood is established" to include the unborn, then the case for abortion rights "collapses" because "the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment."
The debate over Amendment 62 is particularly significant for Colorado pro-lifers because, in 1967, their state was the first in the nation to liberalize its abortion laws. The '67 law -- signed by Colorado Gov. John Love six years before Roe -- allowed abortion in a number of instances, including if a pregnancy posed danger to a woman's physical or mental health. That loophole, pro-lifers said, essentially legalized abortion-on-demand.
Amendment 62, Mason said, would set a "constitutional precedent" on when life deserves protection. The personhood strategy, he added, does not necessarily require the overturning of Roe.
"We look at Roe vs. Wade in the same manner that we look at [the Supreme Court's pro-slavery decision] Dred Scott, which was never overturned," Mason said. "We were able to pass the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, which made it a moot point. The personhood strategy and approach relies on the people of America to help change the laws and change the Constitution. That's far more powerful than trying to put this in the hands of nine men and women in black robes."
Nationally, the pro-life community, as it was in 2008, is split over Amendment 62, with some pro-lifers saying it will be struck down easily in federal court and will only serve to strengthen Roe's precedent. Those pro-lifers also say the timing isn't right, because five votes are needed on the nine-member court to reverse Roe, and at best, there currently are only four votes. Mason counters by saying abortion already is a "super right" in the country and that the pro-Roe precedent can't become much stronger than it already is.
"We look at this as more of a movement for constitutional change, and it's starting on the local level, which will reach the federal level once we've grown enough," Mason said.
Personhood supporters tweaked the language from the proposal two years ago, when it defined a person as a "human being from the moment of conception." This year's amendment defines a person as a human being from the "beginning of the biological development." The change was made so that the amendment protects embryos derived from cloning or in vitro fertilization. The Amendment 62 campaign website says the proposal would not ban IVF but would instead "force medical scientists to come up with ethical alternatives to the mass production and mass extermination of human beings at the hands of fertility clinics."
Mason believes the personhood movement is growing in part because youth and young adults are increasingly pro-life. Esquire published a survey in its October issue showing that 53 percent of male 20-year-olds consider themselves pro-life.
"The younger generation is becoming more pro-life, and for several reasons," Mason said. "The first reason is that the younger generation, we've seen what abortion does. It's hard to meet anyone who has not been touched by abortion personally in some way -- who has not seen the devastating aftereffects of what an abortion is and what it does. The second reason is that abortion information is readily available to us. If I want to know what something is, I Google it. If you Google 'abortion,' you will find out exactly what it is very quickly, especially if you look at images."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For more information about Amendment 62, visit www.PersonhoodColorado.com.