Anti-Abortion ‘Personhood’ Tries for Round Three

The so-called “personhood” movement has been knocked down badly in Colorado twice before in the 2008 and 2010 elections. By wide margins voters defeated ballot measures intended to ban all abortions. But the measures’ organizers are back with a new, slightly modified anti-abortion measure for the state’s 2012 ballot (assuming the group gathers enough signatures).

I attended the group’s November 21 media conference at the state capitol, filmed it, and asked a few questions. Please note that my purpose in filming the event was largely journalistic; my main goal was to record the views of the group’s participants. Of course I pressed some questions on matters that I find important. Embedded is the complete video of the event, plus some extra footage of Kristi Burton Brown answering questions.

My opposition to the “personhood” measures is well known (in the relevant circles); I coauthored a paper against the measures in both 2008 and2010.

The proposed 2012 measure is mostly the same as the previous measures, though it spells out some of its implications in greater detail. I posted thefour-page media packet distributed by the group’s organizers, including a page with the complete text of the new proposal:

From Personhood Nov. 21, 2011

The major difference for the 2012 measure is that it explicitly allows abortions to protect the life of the pregnant woman. One of the problems with the previous measures is that they left the life of the woman in a precarious state under certain conditions. See the section of the 2010 paper, “Abortions to Protect a Woman’s Health.” The new measure states:

Medical treatment for life threatening physical conditions intended to preserve life shall not be affected by this section. … “Medical treatment for life threatening physical conditions intended to preserve life” includes but is not limited to treatment for cancer, ectopic and molar pregnancy, twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, and placenta previa.

This language would give doctors some much-needed latitude to perform abortions to save the life of the woman. (Note that the measure’s supporters are loath to call these “medical treatments” abortions, but that’s what we are in fact talking about.)

But what if a doctor needed to perform an abortion only to protect a woman’s long-term health, as opposed to her life? Abortions under such circumstances would be banned if the measure were passed and fully enforced. And ambiguous cases would be decided by prosecutors and the courts.

Still, the measure’s supporters have made a serious effort to address one of the concerns with the earlier measures. Unfortunately, the remaining problems with the measure are manifold and severe. Consider:

* Obviously, the measure would totally ban all elective abortions.

* The measure explicitly says that abortions would be banned even in cases of rape or incest.

* The measure would ban all forms of birth control “that kills a person”; i.e., that can prevent a zygote (post-fertilized egg) from implanting in the uterus. Notably, that includes the birth control pill, the IUD, and “morning after” drugs.

* The measure would ban all fertility treatments “that kills a person”; i.e., that involves the destruction of embryos created outside the womb. In practice, the measure would shut down most fertility procedures that involve creating embryos outside the womb and limit such treatments to the wealthy and to those with rare physiological conditions.

* The measure would subject women who get abortions (along with those who assist her) to severe criminal penalties, counting an abortion legally as “murder.”

* While the 2012 language explicitly protects women with “spontaneous miscarriages,” the entire problem is that it would be the responsibility of coroners, prosecutors, and the courts to distinguish natural miscarriages from intentional harm to the fetus. So the new language changes nothing on that score.

One thing that bothered me about the media conference is Burton-Brown’s insistence that her opponents are liars. But it is Burton-Brown herself who has been consistently cagey about the implications of the “personhood” measures. During the conference, she flatly refused to state whether “personhood” would ban the birth control pill (hint: if consistently enforced it would). In any case, neither Burton-Brown nor anyone else has found a single factual error in the paper coauthored by Diana Hsieh and me (though obviously the “personhood” crowd disagrees with our analysis of the basic facts). In general, people ought not call their opponents liars unless they have really good evidence that such is the case; Burton-Brown presented no such evidence (though I have not evaluated all the claims of all of the opponents of “personhood”). Indeed, the main reason for the 2012 rewrite is to address various criticisms.

Obviously I’ll have much more to say about Colorado’s 2012 “personhood” measure in the coming months. For now, it suffices to say that it is the identical measure as before, only with more verbiage, with the notable exception of the language about “life threatening physical conditions.” It richly deserves defeat again, and I do not doubt that Colorado voters will oblige. The problem is that, if unchallenged, it softens the ground for incremental abortion restrictions leading to a long-run total ban.

Meanwhile, Team Obama rejoices as the Republican Presidential candidates fall all over themselves endorsing such wildly unpopular nonsense.

November 29 Update: See the replies by Monica McCafferty, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and Emilie Ailts, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado.

1 thought on “Anti-Abortion ‘Personhood’ Tries for Round Three”

  1. Comment by RobO2112 November 22, 2011 8:03 AM

    Disagree with you on such basic facts as what? That it’s not fair that a woman be unduly saddled with an 18 year commitment because she was raped? Disagree that incest frequently results in the appearance of detrimental recessive genes? Disagree that taking two morning after pills is not tantamount to the planning and execution of a murder of a self-sustaining human being? I think you might be too generous when you say they disagree, I would say that the more apt term would be “willfully ignorant.”

    I have confidence the people of Colorado will see right through this proposed amendment for exactly what it is: statism. Keep up the great work you do Mr. Armstrong (and Mrs. Hsieh too!)

    Comment by RussK November 22, 2011 11:08 AM

    Thank you for your efforts. I don’t live in Colorado, but I’ve paid a lot of attention to your work on this issue, and share it with as many people as possible. The personhood campaign is a national campaign, and your resources are much needed material to help continually defeat the movement.

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