‘Personhood’ and the Fetal Protection Bill

Anti-abortion activists killed a bill to protect fetuses from criminal and reckless harm, as I recently pointed out. Over at Big Media, Jason Salzmanalso quotes from the Colorado Christian Family Alliance, which opposed the bill.

Today, Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post advances the story by paraphrasing State Representative Mark Waller, who blames the pro-choice side for including language denying the legal “personhood” of fetuses.

Bartels also quotes Colorado Right to Life as accusing Waller of failing to fight the “battle with the liberal, godless, left-wing abortion industry.” (Obviously the line is intended as a smear on multiple counts; many people other than those who facilitate abortions favor legal abortion, as do many religious people and non-left-wing people.)

But Bartels is wrong to imply that the “single sentence” about personhood is what primarily doomed the bill. Both the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Colorado Christian Family Alliance mention the personhood line, but they also dislike the fact that the bill repealed other (mostly unenforceable) laws pertaining to abortion. A release yesterday from the Alliance does not even mention the “personhood” issue (see below).

Notably, the Alliance gives anti-abortion activists full credit for killing the bill, and the Alliance pledges to accept only clearly “pro-life,” meaning anti-abortion, language.

The Alliance material quoted by Salzman also claims the bill “codifies taxpayer funding for abortion mills.” But I looked at the bill and found no language along those lines. Update: State Senator Pat Steadman returned my call and confirmed the bill did not pertain to “taxpayer funding” of abortions. Steadman said it’s “ridiculous” to think the bill has anything to do with tax funding, “because that’s unconstitutional” according to Article 5, Section 50; “I can’t imagine what provision of the bill they would even cite to make that claim.”

Obviously the anti-abortion crowd is attempting to hijack the fetal protection bill, which is why the line about “personhood” was important. To review, in 2010 State Senator Dave Schultheis ran a bill explicitlygranting legal “personhood” to fetuses, and in 2008 and 2010 anti-abortion groups ran a “personhood” initiative in Colorado (and have threatened to do so again in 2012).

So for Waller to accuse the pro-choice side of hanging up the bill over “personhood” language is completely disingenuous. The central problem is that the anti-abortion side will not allow a bill to proceed unless it is a backdoor attempt to outlaw abortion.

Another reason why language denying legal “personhood” to fetuses was needed in this year’s bill (1256) is that its title and language explicitly refers to an “unborn child.” As I’ve argued, this “vague, non-objective” language “obscures the important distinction between a fetus and a born child.” Given that ambiguity, language clarifying that a fetus is not in fact legally a “person” is absolutely essential to the bill.

Now, for a bill with a neutral title, such as “A Bill to Protect Embryos and Fetuses from Criminal and Reckless Harm,” specific language about “personhood” would not be necessary, so long as the bill’s provisions unambiguously refrained from restricting abortions.

In general, a good bill would be much shorter and much simpler than 1256. However, a good bill must also prevent anti-abortion zealots from hijacking the law for backdoor abortion bans.

March 17 Release from the Christian Family Alliance of Colorado

Pro-Life Citizens Rally to kill sneak attack on Colorado’s voter-passed Pro-life Laws
Even the bill’s drafter, attorney Michael Dohr, admitted the bill “removes all criminal abortion statutes” thereby ratifying abortion-on-demand in Colorado

Denver, CO – Today, Christian Family Alliance of Colorado responded to deceptive State House GOP leadership back pedaling on a bill designed to subvert Colorado’s voter-passed pro-life laws.

HB 1256, the so-called fetal homicide bill, inspired by a recent hit and run crime committed against an Aurora women and her unborn child, was pulled after pro-life citizens rallied to expose the deceitful bill.

The language of the bill, rather than address only fetal homicide, went far beyond to strike part 1 of article 6 of title 18 that would decriminalize all abortion related criminal activity.

“It saddens CFAC to know that even House GOP leadership seemed prepared to nullify all of Colorado’s voter-passed pro-life laws and therefore ratify abortion-on-demand in the Centennial State,” said Neville.

“We’d expect that from a Planned Parenthood lobbyist like Senate sponsor Pat Steadman, but not from those who claim to value the lives of unborn children.”

“Thankfully pro-life citizens rallied in time to end the travesty that was HB 1256. They are now looking forward to working with real pro-life legislation that will finally close Colorado’s fetal homicide loop hole,” concluded Neville.