This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong’s and my new policy paper: The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I’m currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.
The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception
By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010
The ‘Personhood’ Movement
The “personhood” movement launched its first major initiative in 2008 in Colorado with Amendment 48, which voters defeated in November by a margin of 73 to 27 percent. (The same year, South Dakota voters defeated Measure 11, which sought to ban most abortions through abortion-specific language, and California voters rejected Proposition 4, which sought to institute a waiting period and parental notification requirements prior to obtaining an abortion.)
Despite the pointed defeat of Amendment 48, “personhood” advocates vowed to return in Colorado and expand their cause to other states. They have done that. In a 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Keith Mason, a co-founder of Personhood USA, said, “We have big and small efforts going on in 30 states right now…Our goal is to activate the population.” Mason likened his cause to the abolitionist movement to end slavery. Apparently the “personhood” movement seeks to gain support over the long term, even if short-term electoral success proves impossible.
In 2010, Personhood Colorado (a group associated with Personhood USA) gathered sufficient signatures for a new measure, assigned to the Colorado ballot as Amendment 62. Like Amendment 48, the new measure seeks to add a section to Colorado’s Bill of Rights extending full legal rights from the moment of conception. (Gualberto Garcia Jones, along with the vice president of Colorado Right to Life, Leslie Hanks, submitted the paperwork for Amendment 62.)
Amendment 62 states: “Section 32 [of Article II]. Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the term ‘person’ shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”
The implications of Amendment 62, then, must be evaluated in light of the other cited sections:
Section 3. Inalienable rights.
All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
Section 6. Equality of justice.
Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and a speedy remedy afforded for every injury to person, property or character; and right and justice should be administered without sale, denial or delay.
Section 25. Due process of law.
No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.
Essentially, Amendment 62 would grant the same legal rights to a newly fertilized zygote that a born infant enjoys. The measure would authorize police, prosecutors, judges, and other officials to intervene to protect embryos and fetuses just as they intervene to protect newborn infants. For example, as columnist Ed Quillen points out, “Every home miscarriage would have to be investigated by the coroner, for it’s his legal duty to look into all deaths of persons that do not occur under medical supervision.” In every other way, an embryo or fetus would receive equivalent legal protection of a newborn.
A primary political strategy of Personhood Colorado has been to garner support among Republicans. In 2008, numerous high-profile Republican office holders and candidates endorsed “personhood”; in 2010 even more did so.
Colorado Right to Life issued similarly-worded candidate surveys in 2008 and 2010. The survey asks (among other things) whether candidates support “the God-given, inalienable Right to Life for the unborn”; “agree that abortion is always wrong, even when the baby’s father is a criminal (i.e. a rapist)”; endorse the “personhood” measure; and oppose “embryonic stem cell research.”
In 2008, those who agreed completely with Colorado Right to Life’s agenda included Congressman Doug Lamborn (elected to the Fifth Congressional district in 2006); Congressman Mike Coffman (elected to the Sixth Congressional district in 2008); Jeff Crank (who lost the primary to Lamborn in 2008 but hosted a radio show and became state director of Americans for Prosperity); and (except for a question about incremental legislation) Kevin Lundberg (appointed to the state senate in 2009 after serving as state representative).
In 2010, Colorado Right to Life proclaimed even greater Republican support for its agenda:
In 2008, most major candidates were unwilling to take a stand on Personhood. It’s possible that Bob Schaffer, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, lost because he did not endorse Personhood, and many voters did not consider him sufficiently pro-life. By contrast, in 2010, every credible Republican candidate for top statewide offices has said they support Personhood, and most of the credible Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and Congress have also expressed support for Personhood.
Conservative activist Ed Hanks notes that “three of the seven candidates for districts in Congress are on record as supporting Personhood–Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman.” Colorado Right to Life notes that Gardner, a candidate in the Fourth Congressional district, joined Lamborn and Coffman in expressing perfect agreement with the organization’s agenda.
In the Republican primaries for governor and U.S. Senate, all four candidates endorsed “personhood,” and the staunchest anti-abortion candidates won. In the governor’s race, Dan Maes beat scandal-plagued Scott McInnis, who had previously served on the advisory board of Republicans for Choice and said he changed his mind on the issue. (However, even though Colorado Right to Life considers Maes to be “100% pro-life,” he also said he supports current laws on birth control and regards Amendment 62 as “simply making a statement.” Maes also selected a running mate who favors legal abortions in cases of rape and incest.) In the Senate race, Ken Buck, who said, “I don’t believe in the exceptions [to abortion bans] of rape or incest,” beat Jane Norton, who favored exceptions for “rape, incest, and life of the mother” (earning her criticism from Colorado Right to Life).
Still, many Colorado Republicans seem confused or conflicted about the implications of “personhood.” At the 2010 Republican state convention, 79 percent supported a resolution holding that “life begins at conception and is deserving of legal protection from conception until natural death.” However, 74 percent also endorsed the statement that “pregnancy, abortion, and birth control are personal private matters not subject to government regulation or interference.” Moreover, some Republicans actively oppose “personhood”; in 2008 former Republican Senator Hank Brown joined the Republican Majority for Choice in opposing Amendment 48. While the “personhood” movement clearly finds strong support among Colorado Republicans and seeks to build that support, many Republicans express concern about the measure’s legal implications or oppose it outright.
Colorado voters will likely reject Amendment 62 in 2010, albeit perhaps by a smaller margin than with Amendment 48 in 2008. However, Personhood Colorado will likely gather enough signatures for a similar measure in 2012.