Personhood activists, who've waged repeated campaigns to ban abortion in Colorado, are gathering Thursday night at a Highlands Ranch church to launch their petition drive to put a so-called fetal homicide measure on the 2014 election ballot.
The initiative would allow the state to prosecute people those who commit crimes against "unborn human beings."
The phrase "unborn human beings" is not defined in the proposed initiative, leaving open the possibility that all stages of human development, from zygote (fertilized egg) through the end of pregnancy, could be considered by courts as "people" and receive legal protections under Colorado law.
This approach, which mirrors a bill introduced by GOP Rep. Janak Joshi in the Colorado Legislature this year, has been criticized by abortion-rights advocates as a back-door abortion ban, because it could give a fetus legal status and open the door for criminal charges against doctors who provide abortions. Others have claimed it could even justify the murder of abortion providers.
State House Democrats killed Joshi's bill in January, on a party-line vote, and later the House lawmakers passed a bill that would make it a crime to recklessly terminate a pregnancy (e.g., if a drunk driver hits a pregnant women.) Colorado law already states that intentionally doing so is a crime but not unintentionally.
The Democrats' bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Foote and Rep. Clair Levy, specifically does not "confer personhood, or any rights associated with that status, on a human being at any time prior to live birth." (For more details see Melanie Asmar's Jan. 30 Westword piece on the topic.)
The key provision of the proposed constitutional amendment 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 Thursday, personhood activists will hear from Heather Survoik, who was hit by a car when eight-months pregnant, resulting in the death of her baby, 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 spokesman Gualberto Garcia Jones.
"Brady and all unborn children should be considered persons," Garcia Jones, who's one of the Amendment's two sponsors, told me, adding that the courts have specifically asked for clarification of the terms defined in his measure, which is titled, "Definition of Person and Child."
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."
The initiative's language was not challenged and has been approved by the Title Board.
Garcia Jones is hoping that a personhood measure, giving legal rights to zygotes (fertilized eggs) and banning all abortion, will also appear on the 2014 election ballot in Colorado.
The Colorado Secretary of State's office determined last year that personhood activists hadn't collected enough signatures to make the 2012 ballot.
Garcia Jones said his organization is "probably going to go to federal court" to seek more time to collect signatures and make the ballot.
If they succeed, personhood backers will have two measures on next year's ballot.
Both initiatives look the same to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains spokeswoman Monica McCafferty. They both aim to ban abortion in Colorado, she said.