Personhood amendment revised and revived

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Colorado Right to Life joined forces with Personhood USA on the West Steps of the state Capitol on Thursday to launch a ballot initiative to define a person as “every human being from the beginning of biological development of that human being.”

“The amendment was changed to remove the word ‘fertilization’ because of concerns that it would protect cloning. And, now, there’s even human-animal cloning,” said Keith Mason, a founder of Personhood USA.

“The new language is much stronger,” said Mason, an Arvada resident, alluding to a perceived weakness in the wording of the first Personhood Amendment. That amendment was resoundingly defeated by voters in November.

“And we have a grassroots organization ready to hit the ground running. We also have a new campaign strategy,” Mason added.

“The amendment language was written by Dr. Dianne Irving, Ph.D., a professionnal biochemist and biologist at Georgetown University,” stated Leslie Hanks, vice president of Colorado Right to Life, in an e-mail.

“Cloning of people is okay?” asked Leslie Durgin, a senior vice president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains upon hearing of the revised wording for the Personhood Amendment.

“And the language is far clearer, I suppose,” said Durgin with an edge of sarcasm.

Despite the amendment’s edit, Durgin said it’s the same measure with the same problems.

“If this gets on the ballot, we’re prepared to fight it and educate the voters,” said Durgin, who did not rule out the possibility that Planned Parenthood would challenge the legality of the amendment’s language, as it did 2008.

Mason served as operations director for the 2008 Colorado for Equal Rights Movement, which organized the petition drive and campaign for the amendment that was originally authored by Peyton resident Kristi Burton.

The day after the amendment was defeated by 73 percent of the electorate, Mason established Personhood USA, a Web site that enlisted organizers in nearly every state. So far, there are active campaigns in 17 states and ballot initiative petition drives in Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon and Montana.

“We’re ready to combat the scare tactics that were used against us last year by the pro-choice factions,” said Mason. “Because we built our grassroots network last year, we’ll have more resources and energy for marketing.”

The organizers plan to correct two mistakes made last year — being too closely aligned with the Republican Party and failing to draw support from Hispanic voters.

“The campaign was portrayed as a partisan effort. It is true that Republicans are more likely support the amendment than Democrats — but this will be a nonpartisan campaign,” Mason said.

The partisan image, he said, might be attributed to the fact that Burton was a delegate to the Republican National Convention and that Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee endorsed the amendment’s language.

“I really support getting this new initiative on the ballot,” said Burton, whose father works in Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s 5th Congressional District office in Colorado Springs.

“They’ve asked me to be a consultant on the campaign, and I said, ‘Yes!’’’ exclaimed the 21-year-old. “I’ve agreed to help with the transition and guide them through some of the processes.”

Burton will be dividing her time between the campaign and a personal event — a late summer wedding to a man she met during last year’s Personhood amendment campaign.

She said the original campaign was weakened by its failure to reach out Hispanic voters.

“The Hispanic community is growing, with a large number of voters and they’re traditionally pro-life,” Burton said. “The 2010 campaign has a very good strategy.”

“We also plan to run two campaigns — one in English and one is Spanish,” Mason said.

Mason said that the effort will be greatly assisted by Gualberto Garcia Jones, the Colorado spearhead for the campaign, who is bilingual.

“People ask why we would do this again. We lost by a 3-to1 margin last year,” said Jones, who earned his law degree from the George Washington University School of Law School in 2004.

“This campaign is reflective of a sickness in our society,” he said. “We’re going to keep working to cure an intrinsic evil in our society.”

Jones said he has already begun fundraising through the Personhood USA Web site and meetings with major donors. However, he anticipates that most of the money will be raised from grassroots donors in Colorado.

Another hurdle might be winning over the Catholic Bishops of the Colorado Catholic Conference.

Last year, Mason had publicized — prematurely — that Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, Pueblo Bishop Arthur Tafoya and Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan had expressed support for the Personhood Amendment.

The Colorado Catholic Conference clarified that the Catholic bishops and the church did not endorse the ballot measure because it did not address their goal — to adopt a federal law to ban abortion.

“I recently met with them,” said Jones. “I was very open and honest and left the door open for them to become involved.”

“I’m Catholic, and this amendment is very dear to my heart,” he added. “I don’t expect their full support, even though it is part of the Catholic theology and doctrine.”

Does Jones plan to talk with Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a Catholic, who opposed the Personhood Amendment last year?

“No, I don’t want to talk with the governor,” Jones said. “This is a civil rights movement, not a political movement. If I talked with him, it would become political.”

According to the campaign Web site, “Personhood USA is a grassroots Christian organization founded to establish personhood efforts across America to create protection for every child by love and by law. Personhood USA is committed to assisting and supporting Personhood Legislation and Constitutional Amendments and building local pro-life organizations through raising awareness of the personhood of the pre-born.”

Mason anticipates that the Colorado Legal Council will approve the language in late August or early September. The movement then has six months to collect about 70,000 petition signatures. Last year, Burton and Mason collected more than twice that many.

Planned Parenthood’s Durgin responded to the optimism by noting that Colorado Republicans for Choice fought the amendment last year — and that it was overwhelmingly defeated in the November election.

“Our polls showed last year that people clearly understood our campaign then against the measure,” she said.

“They’ll understand it again.”

Durgin said the revised amendment raises the same concerns — that it would ban abortion, birth control pills and in vitro procedures while threatening death penalties for doctors who perform abortions or do invasive surgery that could harm a fetus. She said the amendment also would open the door to criminal investigations of women who spontaneously miscarry and potential death for women prohibited from ending tubal pregnancies.

“Then you wonder where is the money coming from to change the state Constitution and every law, and fight legal challenges, when the state is facing this budget crisis,” Durgin said. “We never got a true estimate of that cost last year — but it would be outrageous!”

“If this measure gets on the ballot, we’ll strongly lead the opposition,” she vowed.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com