Personhood proponents turn in ballot petitions

GOP officials are not clamoring to endorse measure
The Colorado Statesman

Sponsors of a ballot proposal that would offer constitutional rights to the unborn say they turned in 112,121 petition signatures to the secretary of state’s office on Monday, contending that the initiative is necessary to offer justice to families following horrific tragedies such as the Aurora movie theater mass shooting.

The so-called “personhood” initiative could appear before voters this November for the third time since 2008, once again facing an uphill battle in a divisive political climate that appears to have prominent Republicans afraid to offer their support.

The initiative must secure 86,105 valid signatures in order to qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state’s office has until Sept. 5 to inform proponents whether the measure qualifies.

Because of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains challenging the
title of the ballot initiative, sponsors had seven fewer weeks to collect signatures and may not have a cure period to fix invalid signatures as a result. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in March that the ballot title for the initiative was appropriate.

Colorado voters killed the proposal in 2008, when 73 percent rejected the measure, and again in 2010, when 71 percent of voters did likewise.

The measure is worded slightly differently this time around to address concerns about contraception, miscarriage, in vitro fertilization and life-saving emergency medical procedures. The language this year clarifies that only methods of birth control and assisted reproduction that kill a fetus would be included.

Proponents say the effort to ban abortion and protect the unborn in Colorado is a worthy cause, especially following the senseless shooting in Aurora that killed 12 and injured 58 more.

Among the victims was Ashley Moser, a pregnant mother who was wounded in the shooting and lost her
6-year-old daughter during the massacre last month at the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora. Following the shooting, Moser also suffered a miscarriage.

The family has released only a brief statement, mostly detailing the “lifetime of care” Moser will need following her injuries. And the Arapahoe County district attorney’s office has declined to comment on whether additional charges could be sought as a result of the miscarriage, citing a gag order in the case.

Personhood sponsors also highlighted the recent death of Heather Surovik’s unborn son, who was lost on July 5 following a wreck in Longmont that involved a chronic drunk driver caught fleeing the scene. The child was so close to birth that the family had already named him Brady Paul Surovik.

Personhood supporters believe Colorado law does not allow prosecutors to seek justice for the life of the unborn. The group has connected the issue to a larger issue of so-called “fetal homicide,” stating that their initiative would potentially offer prosecutors an additional tool in bringing justice.

Rosalinda Lozano, a sponsor of the personhood initiative, believes offering constitutional rights to the unborn would help prosecutors seek more serious and significant charges following incidents such as the ones in Aurora and Longmont.

“Thirteen human lives were taken in the Aurora theater killing spree, but only 12 will be recognized because of current Colorado law,” Lozano said at a brief news conference on Monday held outside the secretary of state’s office at 1700 Broadway. “That is because the 13th who was murdered in that massacre was unborn.”

“And the same story happened with him,” Lozano continued of Brady Paul Surovik. “Because he was not born yet, he will not be recognized as a human being… We call on Colorado voters to end this hypocrisy.”

Personhood sponsors are trying to do what lawmakers have failed to do at the Legislature. Two bills this year, House Bill 1130, sponsored by Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, and Senate Bill 125, sponsored by Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, and Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, would have created fetal homicide laws in Colorado. But critics argued that the measures would have enacted personhood, with unintended consequences such as banning abortion and criminalizing mothers. Both bills died.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains opposed the measures, just as it opposes the personhood initiative. A spokeswoman for the organization, Monica McCafferty, said on Monday following the personhood
news conference that fetal homicide should be tackled at the legislative level, not through a constitutional amendment.

“The past events have certainly been tragic, and there are different ways to address that through the legislative process,” said McCafferty. “This amendment is not what we need on the ballot. This would impact our state constitution.”

McCafferty said that even if the personhood initiative were to offer prosecutors a tool in seeking justice for the unborn, the initiative itself has too many “grave consequences” to support.

“Another reason why in the past two years we have been able to get so many medical communities and other partners behind us is because the outcomes are so grave and so numerous,” she said. “It goes much more beyond abortion.”

One of the organization’s lobbying arms, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Ballot Issue Committee, has raised $96,996, with $55,056 cash on hand to fight the initiative. Proponents, through their issue committee Colorado Personhood Coalition, have raised $22,935, with $1,860 in the bank.

Political implications

McCafferty acknowledged that opponents are fighting the initiative at a time when women’s health care and contraception issues have been thrust into the national spotlight. Pro-choice groups have labeled the recent controversy a “war on women,” pointing to attacks on President Barack Obama’s federal health care law that requires private employers provide employees with insurance coverage for birth control at no cost.

Highlighting the significance of the debate, Obama had Sandra Fluke — the Georgetown Law student who testified before Congress earlier this year in favor of contraceptive insurance coverage — introduce him at his Denver campaign stop this week. Conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for her testimony, which added to Fluke’s notoriety on the issue.

McCafferty agrees that the personhood debate is taking place this year at a time when Americans are more focused on women’s health care issues than in recent years, but she says that has actually been helping the opposition’s cause.

“People really see that this is 2012 and we’re having national debates on birth control and whether a woman is able to make these decisions for herself, issues that have been settled for decades,” said McCafferty. “So, what we’re hearing from the general public and our activists, people who are engaged, is that really we’re getting a lot of support, and this is actually encouraging them to re-engage with us to see that there is still this battle to fight.”

But Gualberto Garcia Jones, legal analyst for personhood proponents, said the energized political climate is igniting the call amongst pro-life activists to see personhood passed.

“People are really aware of the significance of how a whole section of the population is not having any rights, even when they are fully wanted, like in the case of the Aurora victim or the drunk driver,” he said.

That being said, personhood supporters are still waiting on public endorsements from key conservative politicians, especially members of the congressional delegation. Only U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, has expressed his support so far, but Lamborn is not facing a difficult election in his Republican-leaning 5th Congressional District. Lamborn has not officially endorsed personhood, but his congressional office has told The Colorado Statesman that he supports the initiative.

More curious to observers is whether U.S. Reps. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, will endorse the initiative this year. Personhood supporters say the lawmakers have not endorsed the initiative thus far.

Colorado Right to Life says Coffman and Gardner have supported personhood in the past, but that the organization didn’t consider Tipton to be “honestly pro-life,” according to candidate surveys taken in 2010.

A spokesman for Coffman’s campaign said late Wednesday that the congressman would not be endorsing statewide ballot initiatives.

“The congressman doesn’t take positions on any state and local ballot initiatives,” campaign spokesman Owen Loftus told The Statesman.

Coffman then told the Denver Post on Wednesday, “I am against all abortions, except when it is necessary to protect the life of the mother.”

State Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, who is challenging Coffman in the newly redrawn competitive Congressional District 6, took a jab at Coffman on Thursday for not endorsing the initiative this year, stating that the congressman is just trying to “score political points.”

“Mike Coffman is desperately trying to conceal his support for radical Personhood laws that would ban important forms of contraception and outlaw abortions even in cases of rape or incest,” Miklosi said in a statement. “Mike Coffman’s actions speak much louder than his attempt to hide his past support for Personhood.”

Gardner’s spokeswoman, Rachel Boxer George, said the congressman also would not be taking a position on the issue this year, as it is a statewide question.

“As a federal legislator, Cory will not be taking positions on state initiatives,” she said.

A spokesman for Tipton has simply told The Statesman that he is pro-life, but would not expand on his support for or opposition to personhood this year.

Joe Coors, a Republican candidate for the 7th Congressional District who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, said through his campaign on Wednesday that he would not be endorsing personhood this year. Coors had donated $1,000 to the campaign in 2010.

“Joe won’t be endorsing the personhood initiative because it’s clear that after two failed attempts on the ballot, Coloradans have made their decision on the issue,” spokeswoman Michelle Yi said in a statement to The Statesman. “Joe respects the voters’ decision and, for the next 90 days, will continue to focus on ideas to get our economy back on track by helping job creators start new businesses and expand their payrolls.”

The news that Coors would not be endorsing personhood this year sparked a campaign e-mail from Perlmutter’s spokeswoman, Leslie Oliver, who attacked their Republican challenger for playing political games. Perlmutter is opposed to personhood.

“Joe Coors is playing politics with women’s health care,” said Oliver. “Two years ago, Joe Coors put his money where his mouth was and spent a thousand dollars pushing an extreme measure. Clearly, given this fact, there is no doubt he would push to outlaw a woman’s right to choose in Congress. Personal actions speak louder than words.”

Meanwhile, the Colorado Republican Party has never endorsed personhood and remains silent about the issue this year.

Still, personhood supporters said it would be “wise” for conservative politicians to endorse their initiative.

“I expect all pro-life legislators to really support this, and I think when they see the type of grassroots energy that this creates, I think it would be wise for them to support it,” said Jones.

Peter@coloradostatesman.com