Colorado Anti-Choice Group Could Push Through ‘Personhood’ Amendment in November

If the election were held today, Colorado voters would approve a "personhood" amendment on the November ballot, say the measure’s opponents, who believe they can still win if their multi-faceted campaign raises enough money.

If the election were held today, Colorado voters would approve a "personhood" amendment on the November ballot, say the measure’s opponents, who believe they can still win if their multi-faceted campaign raises enough money. Petition via Shutterstock

Read more of our articles on Amendment 67 here.

When voters are presented with the text of Colorado’s latest “personhood” amendment, which would “protect women and children” by adding “unborn human beings” to the state’s criminal code, they’re mostly supportive of the measure, according to Vote No 67 campaign manager Fofi Mendez, citing internal focus groups and polling.

But when voters are told that Amendment 67 would have the “same dangerous consequences as Colorado’s two previous ‘personhood’ amendments,” which aimed to give legal rights to zygotes (fertilized eggs), voters turn against the proposal, Mendez said.

“If we have the funding to support our campaign, then we will be able to defeat this,” she said, adding that the campaign is about $1 million shy of its $3.8 million goal. So far, $947,000 has been contributed, according to campaign finance reports.

The statewide Vote No 67 campaign includes both volunteer and paid canvassing, phone, and grassroots organizing activities, as well as paid advertising and social media. About $1 million worth of advertising time has been reserved, and ads will begin airing in about a week.

Proponents of Amendment 67, who last year submitted more than the 86,000 signatures required to place their measure on the ballot, say they’re operating on a shoestring budget, relying on volunteers.

Over the past six weeks, the organization behind Amendment 67, A Voice for Brady, has spent $30, and it has raised about $1,800 since June, according to campaign finance reports. Personhood of Colorado, an organization that funded previous “personhood” campaigns in the state, is inactive.

Asked why recent expenditures were so low, A Voice for Brady spokesperson Jennifer Mason said via email: “A lot of our expenditures were pre-buying spots at fairs, etc., over the past several months that are just taking place now. We can’t compete financially with our opponents, Planned Parenthood.”

“It is certainly suspect that a Voice for Brady does not seem to be disclosing either its in-kind and/or other expenditures,” Mendez told Rewire. “We know that they have been putting literature out in various parts of the state.”

“Because proponents are hiding where their resources are, we don’t have any idea whether they are going to go up on the air or the radio,” said Mendez, pointing to better funded “personhood” campaigns in North Dakota and Tennessee as an example of what might happen in Colorado.

“We are a grassroots effort, and our greatest asset is our volunteers,” Amendment 67 spokesperson Mason responded via email. “We are relying on them to spread the word about Brady’s story and Amendment 67.”

Brady was the name chosen by Heather Surovik for her 8-month-old fetus, which was destroyed when a drunk driver slammed into Surovik’s car in 2012. Surovik survived the crash and asked Personhood USA activists to help place the “Brady Amendment” on the Colorado ballot.

Both Mason and Surovik have said they relied on hundreds of Colorado churches and about 1,000 volunteers in their signature-gathering effort last year.

“Amendment 67 is not the way to protect pregnant women,” Mendez said, whose Vote No 67 coalition includes dozens of organizations. “This amendment goes too far. It has dangerous consequences. It has the potential to make criminals out of women and doctors. It’s government intruding on our personal and private lives. And because it’s wrapped in a different package, so folks need to unwrap it and look at the fact that it’s the same as it was in 2008 and 2010.”

The 2010 “personhood” measure 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. Both were defeated overwhelmingly by Colorado voters.

The key provision of Amendment 67 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.”

Mason and other backers of Amendment 67 contend that it cannot, by itself, ban abortion. They argue that 38 states have so-called fetal homicide laws. Twenty-four of these states, including Florida, give legal rights to fetuses at early stages of development and allow them to be considered victims of crimes, like the reckless act against Surovik in Colorado.

Drunk drivers in Florida, as a result, could be charged with murder for causing a tragedy like Surovik’s, whereas now they cannot face such charges.

Florida’s law passed this year, and pro-choice activists worry about how courts, there and elsewhere, might chip away at abortion rights based on the definitions of a human being contained in laws like Florida’s.

Colorado has a statute, the Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act, which allows prosecutors to bring charges, but not murder, for recklessly terminating a pregnancy. The law specifically does not “confer personhood, or any rights associated with that status, on a human being at any time prior to live birth.”

CORRECTION: A version of this article misspelled Heather Surovik’s name. We regret the error.