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.”
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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.
“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.”