Will the third time be the charm for the Personhood initiative in Colorado?

The Colorado Statesman

Opponents of a proposed ballot initiative that would extend constitutional rights to a “person” from the moment of biological development are gearing up for their third fight against the anti-abortion so-called “Personhood” proposal, not willing to offer proponents the opportunity to say, “Third time’s the charm.”

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has already launched its “Pledge to Oppose” campaign, asking like-minded believers to sign a pledge to oppose Initiative 46 if it ends up making the November ballot. Their efforts come as Personhood supporters are busy gathering the 86,105 signatures needed to place the question on the November ballot. Proponents say they are about a third of the way there.

Given the signature gathering effort by Personhood supporters, and the fact that similar questions appeared before Colorado voters in 2008 and 2010 — when the measures were rejected by wide margins — Planned Parenthood is not willing to wait until the initiative is actually certified for the ballot.

“This third attempt is no charm,” states Planned Parenthood to its giant mailing list as they gear up for the contentious campaign. “Its simply another sneaky effort using slightly altered wording to trick voters into adopting their anti-choice agenda.”

Planned Parenthood and its coalition partners are using similar arguments as in the past, concerned that the measure would ban all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, and outlaw common forms of contraception.

The coalition is using the Twitter hashtag #3xNoCharm to communicate its message. They are keeping things simple for the most part, even recycling the same campaign signs from the previous two efforts against the measure. All they are waiting for is an official amendment number to slap on the signs, which won’t be available until the secretary of state validates signatures, which are due by Aug. 6.

“We hope that Colorado voters recall that they voted down this measure twice before, but none the less, we’re still going to be out there,” said Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rockies.

She said that in addition to a heightened social media campaign, opponents would be going door-to-door.

They established the issue committee Protect Families, Protect Choices in 2000, and it has been the committee dedicated to fighting anti-choice ballot measures, including attempts to redefine the term “person.” As of the last filing period that ended on May 30, the committee had a balance of $785. Planned Parenthood is also utilizing the Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain Ballot Issue Committee, which shows $21,996 in contributions as of May 30.

Despite it still being early in the campaign for major fundraising, opponents are being proactive. They hope to win voters over by sticking to the same message, which has obviously resonated in previous years.

“People recognize that a measure like this would insert politicians and the government into very personal, private medical decisions that families recognize can be very difficult,” said McCafferty. “Those decisions should remain to be made by a woman with her doctor and her family.”

Proponents have no fear

Personhood proponents don’t deny that their effort is another “uphill battle,” but they say they are ready to take on Planned Parenthood’s “abortion machine.”

Susan Sutherland, initiative coordinator for this year’s attempt at Personhood in Colorado, is hopeful that a tweak in the initiative language will sway voters over to their side. The new language attempts to address concerns about the issues of contraception, miscarriage, in vitro fertilization and life-saving emergency medical procedures.

The 2012 language clarifies that only methods of birth control and assisted reproduction that kill a fetus will be included, stating “spontaneous miscarriages shall not be affected,” and “medical treatment for life threatening physical conditions intended to preserve life shall not be affected.” Such emergency medical treatments include cancer, ectopic and molar pregnancy, twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, and placenta previa.

“We intend to win,” said Sutherland. “We know it’s an uphill battle, but we will continue to fight, and we will do better each time — our intent is to win, that’s our goal every time.”

Personhood supporters have already scored one major victory this year — convincing the Colorado Supreme Court in March that the ballot title for the initiative was appropriate. Planned Parenthood had argued that the title was misleading for not expressing the “true intent and meaning of the measure…” But the Supreme Court unanimously disagreed, backing the proposed title for the Personhood amendment.

Proponents have registered the Colorado Personhood Coalition as their issue committee, showing $20,465 in contributions as of the May 30 period end date. (There is also another other issue committee registered that is dedicated to pro-life efforts, including Colorado Right to Life, which was registered in 2007 and carries a balance of $3,350 as of the May 30 filing.)

Sutherland believes that just sparking the debate through the initiative process alone is progress in and of itself, and she points out that money spent by Planned Parenthood to fight the measure is money not being spent on abortions.

“You fight until your last breath,” she said. “Especially for an issue like this.”

It is too early, according to Sutherland, to name specific endorsements, though she said they expect to announce various individuals in the medical community as supporters.

Proponents have also been attending various political events, and plan on announcing several individual political and high profile endorsements for the 2012 campaign. In the past, such big names as Pam Tebow, the mother of former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, has endorsed Personhood.

Political support in the past came from at least seven Republican state senators and at least 12 Republican state representatives.

The Colorado Republican congressional delegation has been quiet on the issue this year, waiting until the question is certified for the ballot. Only U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, has expressed his support so far. U.S. Reps. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, and Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, have supported Personhood in the past. Colorado Right to Life said in 2010 that it didn’t consider U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, to be “honestly pro-life,” though Tipton says he is pro-life but has not publicly weighed in on Personhood.

The Colorado Republican Party has never endorsed Personhood and remains silent about the issue this year.
As usual, proponents are targeting churches all over the state to collect signatures. They also are attending conventions, festivals and even Colorado Rockies games to collect them.

“Really, this is grassroots people who have the petitions,” said Sutherland. “These are individuals who are collecting signatures, and typically we ask them to take the petitions to their churches and their neighborhoods.”

An explosive year for reproductive health care issues

It has been an explosive year for women’s reproductive health care issues, with much of the debate bursting nationally and at the state legislature after a mandate in President Barack Obama’s federal health care law purported to have employers cover contraception without co-pays.

Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, responded by offering a memorial declaring support for a competing federal proposal that would have allowed insurers to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage based on religious or moral objections. It died in the Senate.

Some of the tensions were exacerbated by a controversial remark by conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh earlier this year, in which he called a Georgetown University student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for testifying before Congress in support of contraceptive health care. Following those remarks, women took to the steps of the Colorado Capitol, rallying in support of reproductive health care rights. Conservatives held rallies of their own this year at the Capitol, arguing for religious constitutional freedoms in the face of contraceptive and reproductive choice.

Also making national headlines was a controversy surrounding the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, which attempted to stop funding Planned Parenthood back in February. After a public outcry, the foundation reversed the decision.

Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, became entwined in the debate after sponsoring House Bill 1130, which would have allowed prosecutors to charge suspects with the same violent crimes against both a pregnant mother and her unborn child. The so-called “fetal homicide” legislation was killed in previous years, as it was this year in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Critics said the measure would have extended Personhood in Colorado and potentially banned abortion.

“We really see that when a battle over women’s health care goes public, we see a lot of support through donations and online supporters. They want to engage with us,” said McCafferty. “We shouldn’t be talking about birth control in 2012, and so we’re seeing a lot of energy on our side.”

Sutherland is not worried about a backlash from voters, despite the highly volatile political atmosphere surrounding conservative social issues. In fact, she believes that the tables have turned the way of conservatives.

“There’s been a bit of a turn in the social issues that we typically put our voice to,” said Sutherland. “These are things that are coming more to the forefront in a manner that we want to see addressed.”

She adds that the social issues are not isolated to Republican and Christian support, noting that her coalition has support from Democrats and non-Christians alike.

“We have people from all walks because the issue of life and the sanctity of that child, that pre-born child, can be known by anyone who cares to know it,” she said. “Anyone who is willing to admit that that is a human being, it doesn’t take a Christian, or a staunch right wing conservative to know that.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com