Archive for the Abortion, Sex, and Reproduction Category

Colorado’s “Personhood” Candidates Take a Beating

In the previous two election cycles, Colorado voters defeated so-called “personhood” measures—intended to outlaw all abortion from the moment of conception and also restrict birth control and in vitro fertility treatments—by overwhelming margins. In 2010 the measure went down 71-29; in 2008 it lost 73-27. If failed to make the ballot this year, but it was still very much a live issue in the 2012 elections. Democrats used the issue effectively to push its allegations that the GOP wages a “war on women.”

Paul Ryan took continual heat for his support for “personhood”; for but one example see an article by Colorado Pols. And Democrats hammered down-ticket Republicans relentlessly on the issue.

Joe Coors, who challenged incumbent Democrat Ed Perlmutter, got badly beat, 53-41 percent. Now, I don’t think Coors would have won even had the “personhood” issue not been on the table, and elsewhere Mike Coffman won despite his support for “personhood.” Nevertheless, the Democratic Party distributed the following mailer knowing it would move votes:

In my state house district, the Democratic challenger trounced the incumbent, Robert Ramirez, 51-43 percent. The left hit Ramirez with a relentless onslaught of mailers hammering him for supporting “personhood,” of which the following, distributed by an outfit called Fight Back Colorado, is an example:

There is no doubt that “personhood” shifted votes to Democrats up and down the ticket in Colorado, though of course it’s hard to say if that one issue made the difference in any given race.

Democrats honed this campaign strategy in 2010, when it defeated Ken Buck in the U.S. Senate race by attacking his abortion-banning stance.

As I’ve been pointing out for some time, Colorado demographically tends to be the type of place where people want government out of our wallets and out of our bedrooms. Unfortunately, the Republican Party in this state is dominated by a religious right that wants to outlaw all abortion and discriminate against gays—and that explains to a large degree why Democrats now control the entire state government, again.


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How the Left Paints the Right as Anti-Woman

The following article originally was published March 16 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The birth-control mandate that forces insurance companies to provide “free” birth control is an extensive forced wealth transfer scheme, compelling everyone who doesn’t use birth control to pay for others to use it. It is blatantly unjust, violating the rights of women and men as consumers as well as the rights of religious organizations that condemn the use of birth control. So how is it that Republicans are losing the issue so spectacularly? How is it that the left so successfully paints the right as “anti-woman?”

Some have suggested that the Obama administration shoved the birth-control mandate down the throats of religious institutions specifically to get a rise out of Republicans. It was a conscious political strategy, in this view. Whether or not Democrats intended that result, they achieved it. The Democrats left the animal skins and clubs lying about, and many Republicans gleefully dressed the part of troglodyte.

Rather than clearly and consistently answer, “Women have every right to purchase and use birth control, but they don’t have the right to force others to pay for it,” Republicans managed to come up with a rather different set of claims. Consider:

• Rick Santorum said that birth control is “harmful to women” and “harmful to society.” Birth control is “not okay,” he added; it is “counter to how things are supposed to be” because sex should be “for purposes of procreation” and not “simply [for] pleasure.”

• When law student Sandra Fluke publicly endorsed the birth-control mandate, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” and suggested that she make sex tapes available. (He later apologized.)

• Newt Gingrich condemned “post conception birth control”—which notably can include the standard birth control pill—and endorsed banning it.

• Gingrich, Santorum, and Ron Paul all have supported the so-called “personhood” movement, which would totally ban all abortions from the moment of conception, ban the birth control pill, and ban standard types of in vitro fertility treatments.

The reason the left is able to paint the right as “anti-woman” is that there is more than a grain of truth to the claim.

The left successfully used the “anti-woman” tag in 2010 against Ken Buck, who lost the U.S. Senate race in Colorado. After Buck endorsed a “personhood” measure in Colorado (before backpedalling), Planned Parenthood ran ads proclaiming, “Colorado women can’t trust Ken Buck.”

Given the background debates, many voters found it easier to interpret even Buck’s innocuous comments in a sinister light. In response to the blatant gender-based attacks by his opponent Jane Norton, Buck joked that people should vote for him he doesn’t “wear high heals.” Attacking Buck over that comment was a cheap shot, but it was also a shot that Buck himself invited by entertaining the “personhood” agenda.

Now the Democrats are trying to beat the Republicans by “Ken Bucking” the lot of them. Democrats think that by winning the votes of independent women, they can win. And they’re probably right. As Rachel Maddow writes for the Washington Post, “Today’s Republican candidates are all Ken Buck now.” If Democrats can make the charge stick—and Republicans are making that all too easy—the Democrats win.

Unfortunately, rather than focus on individual rights, distracted Republicans allow the left to get away with various absurd lies about the mandate. One lie is that birth control paid through insurance is “free.” It is certainly not free for those forced to pay higher insurance premiums.

Another lie is that declining to force people who don’t use birth control to pay for others to use it somehow limits “access to birth control.” We think red wine is good for our hearts, but that doesn’t mean we should be able to force others to stock our wine cellars or that our “access” to red wine is limited if they don’t. There is a huge difference between having the freedom to buy something and having the “freedom” to help yourself to somebody else’s cash.

Yet another creative lie is that not forcing religious institutions to provide birth control would somehow impose “theocracy.” Every person, including those who join religious groups, properly has the freedom to voluntarily enter into contracts. Theocracy means imposing religious doctrines by force of law; the birth-control mandate imposes the comparable injustice of forcibly interfering with religious groups. (Of course, much of the controversy regarding religious groups arises from the phenomenon of employer-paid insurance, a relic of inane tax policies. But that is a separate discussion.)

The unfortunate fact is that neither the left nor the right defends the rights of individuals to control their own resources and bodies and contract by mutual consent. Where is the political leader who will take a pro-choice, pro-individual rights stand across the board?

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at in the Denver area.

The Case for Abortion Rights

The latest issue of The Objective Standard has published an article on abortion rights by Diana Hsieh and me, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.” While this article updates the discussion about the anti-abortion movement, it offers the basic, timeless case for abortion rights.I’ll offer a brief synopsis here.

The first part describes the modern abortion movement, which is basically divided into those who want to immediately declare the “personhood” of zygotes and fetuses from the moment of conception, and those who push for marginal restrictions on abortion.

The second main part discusses why abortion is important for millions of women. Some women need to get an abortion for reasons of health, rape or incest, or serious fetal deformity. Many more women justifiably seek an abortion because, due to their finances, family situation, emotional stability, or goals in life, they are simply not prepared for motherhood. Abortion bans would severely harm the lives and well-being of many women (and their doctors and supporters).

Then the paper address “The Moral Basis of Abortion Rights.” (Diana deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this section.) The basic idea is that individual rights apply in a social context, not to a being contained wholly within the body of another.

The final section ties abortion rights to all our other rights. Abortion bans negate a woman’s right to control her own body. Restrictions on abortion necessarily infringe rights of property, contract, and speech. Moreover, because restrictions on abortion obviously are rooted in sectarian faith, they open the door to more sectarian-based laws and to endless sectarian conflict.

I invite you to read the entire article. See also my follow-up post about Newt Gingrich’s anti-abortion zealotry.

Nanny Statist Sullivan Arrested for Consensual Crimes

Pat Sullivan, who as Arapahoe County Sheriff from 1984 to 2002 busted drug dealers and prostitutes, himself was recently arrested for attempting to trade meth for sex.

As CBS summarizes, ”Today, he’s accused of offering methamphetamine in exchange for sex from a male acquaintance, and he’s locked up in the jail that bears his name, the Patrick Sullivan Jr. Detention Facility.”

Sullivan was a hard-core drug warrior. CBS continues, “In 2007 and 2008, Sullivan actively participated in state and local meth task forces, created to help the state deal with the drug problem.”

I mentioned the story to Jacob Sullum over at Reason, and Sullum looked up more details on Sullivan’s drug-warrior past. Sullum reviews a Denver Post story about how current drug warriors set up Sullivan with paid informants and surveillance. (As I mentioned on Twitter, ordinarily those who surveil consenting adults trading drugs for sex are justly regarded as perverted stalkers.) Sullum writes:

This sort of sleazy setup is an egregious waste of law enforcement resources, and it is manifestly unjust to threaten someone with six years in prison for attempting a peaceful, entirely consensual transaction with another adult. But that is par for the course in the war on drugs, a cause Sullivan enthusiastically served for many years. He led opposition to a 1998 medical marijuana initiative and calledasset forfeiture “an incredible tool” in the battle againt meth.

Thankfully, because of asset-forfeiture reforms that I helped to promote, the cops are less likely to steal Sullivan’s house or car over the alleged drugs.

But Sullivan was not merely a drug warrior, he also enthusiastically busted people for prostitution. Consider this February 6, 1990 article by theDenver Post:

Gerald Perry of the Denver Broncos turned himself in yesterday to begin serving a 15-day jail sentence for soliciting a prostitute. …

Sheriff Pat Sullivan said the offense that Perry was convicted of occurred in the portion of Aurora that is in Adams County. Perry was sentenced by an Aurora municipal judge to the Arapahoe County Jail, but in the order written by the court clerk, the Adams County Jail was specified….

He said the Broncos left tackle will be confined in the jail’s 12-cell medical unit except for meals and recreation periods.

“Someone of his stature and reputation would be disruptive” if placed in the facility’s general population, said Sullivan. …

The sheriff said that with time off for good behavior, Perry could walk out of the jail Feb. 14. “He gets six days of good time, as long as he’s good,” Sullivan said.

Reading that in light of Sullivan’s own recent arrest is downright creepy.

But Sullivan’s Nanny Statism did not extend only to drugs and prostitution, with which he was allegedly involved, but also to gambling. Consider this March 24, 1990 article by John Sanko in the Rocky Mountain News:

Gov. Roy Romer says he doesn’t want Colorado cities turned into miniature versions of Las Vegas or Atlantic City, where casino gambling is the name of the game. …

“I don’t think this is healthy, I don’t think it’s wise and I don’t think it’s needed,” Romer said of plans to bring casino-style gambling to eight small towns and allow electronic poker in others.

“It would put us on a slippery slope that we would not recover from and we would become a full-scale gambling state.”

Lawmakers who support the gambling plan scoffed, but Romer got no argument from Fort Collins District Attorney Stuart VanMeveren.

“It brings in prostitution , it brings in a lot of transients, it brings in a lot of other social problems,” VanMeveren said.

Speaking for the state’s law officers, Arapahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan said serious problems cropped up in the past just with fund-raising “casino nights” for charities.

We wouldn’t want low-life drug-dealing prostitutes doing something like raising money for charity through casino nights!

So as sheriff Sullivan fought drug use, prostitution, and gambling — the Nanny State trifecta — and he also advocated controls on civilian gun ownership. In an email today, Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners wrote:

One of the reasons I am so opposed to the government being involved in your Second Amendment rights is that it takes the power away from you and puts it in their hands.

In the hands of people like the former Republican Sheriff of Arapahoe County, Patrick Sullivan.

Sullivan made a habit of helping out groups like the Brady Campaign when it came to preventing law-abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

He even testified before Congress for Handgun Control in favor of the Brady bill, and in the State Capitol against any concealed carry reform.

During his 18-year tenure as Arapahoe County Sheriff, Sullivan was a poster boy for big government…

But not only was Sullivan a major Nanny Statist, he was also a tax-and-spender. Vincent Carroll reviews for the Denver Post:

[Sullivan] agreed to participate in a political advertisement in 1992 against the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in which he pointed to a section of the amendment that he said “cuts cops and puts criminals back on the street.”

That claim was a lurid falsehood — which voters apparently sensed because they approved TABOR that year by a comfortable margin.

Given how little Sullivan cared for others’ freedoms, it’s a little hard to feel too sorry for him now that he has been arrested for consensual crimes.

And yet we must also remember all the violence Sullivan stopped as a peace officer, and all the innocent people he helped protect from harm.

Lovers of liberty must point out the basic injustice of Sullivan’s arrest, even though it’s the sort of police action Sullivan himself once endorsed.

Opponents Reply to ‘Personhood’ Push

Colorado’s anti-abortion “personhood” advocates held a media conference November 21 in which they announced their proposed language for the 2012 ballot.

Previously I posted video of the entire event. Here I add the replies by Monica McCafferty, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and Emilie Ailts, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado.

For my criticism of the “personhood” proposals, see the paper I coauthored last year.

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.

A Note on the Hancock Affair

Michael Hancock was elected mayor of Denver on June 7. On June 2Complete Colorado courageously or irresponsibly (depending on one’s point of view) ran a story with the following headline, “Mayoral Candidate Hancock Linked to Prostitution Ring.” Soon after midnight today (June 11) the Denver Post published its own story on the matter, following stories by9News, 7News, and other outlets.

Hancock said in a video released by the Post that he has never hired a prostitute.

The purported evidence allegedly linking Hancock to a local prostitution ring (now under investigation) comes from a former owner of the illegal service. Hancock’s (misspelled) name appears in the records along with his phone number.

If Hancock is innocent, then his lawyer is doing an excellent job making him look evasive. Assuming he is innocent, this is a serious frame-up, and I’d be interested to learn what sort of possible criminal penalties the framer might be facing if caught.

I can think of a couple of scenarios by which Hancock’s name and number might have ended up in the records (other than him hiring a prostitute). This is purely speculative and hypothetical on my part. But, conceivably, somebody could simply have forged the records, which would have been fairly easy to accomplish. Or, conceivably, somebody could have “borrowed” Hancock’s phone to set up the initial contact, then called from a different number to hire the prostitutes. As the Post reports, the records contain the line, “Calls from diff #’s (pay ph.).”

But here my purpose is not to try to figure out the correct scenario, for I lack the evidence to do that. Instead, I’d like to make a broader political point.

It is certainly not inconceivable that some city employee has hired a prostitute. Indeed, I’d be quite surprised if that were not the case, and so would everyone else. The same general investigation has already brought down a judge, Edward Nottingham. As the Post reports, the same prostitution records “are believed to include many elite Denver professionals.”

What I find disturbing about this is that Americans now expect a significant portion of the population, including a significant portion of elected officials, to knowingly break the law and then chuckle about it, whether it’s hiring a prostitute or smoking a joint. And yet these same laws we openly mock in some cases destroy people’s lives, whether through a nasty prison sentence, a fatal no-knock raid, or the inherent violence of the black market.

Now, as I have argued, I believe prostitution is immoral even though it should be legal. Where it involves consenting adults, it’s not the sort of thing over which we as a society should be launching criminal investigations or throwing people in jail. Where it does not involve consenting adults, it is a vicious crime that should be forcibly stopped.

I do think voters should weigh whether they want to support candidates known to have hired prostitutes, just as in our personal lives we should weigh whether we want to become friends with people who hire prostitutes. Generally the answer should be no.

But, again, if we wish to live in a free society, we must restrict the field of the illegal to a small subset of the field of the immoral. The only acts that should violate the criminal code are those that violate the rights of others (and I mean the actual rights, not the make-believe “rights” to tell everybody else what to do).

Outside prostitution, certain other sorts of “victimless crimes” can be perfectly moral even though illegal; consider brewing beer during Prohibition. Come to think of it, Denver’s former mayor, John Hickenlooper, now the governor of Colorado, made his name brewing beer, an activity once outlawed by the very state he now leads.

Ultimately, it does not actually much matter whether Hancock hired a prostitute. It does matter very much that whether someone becomes the target of a criminal investigation depends to a very large degree on arbitrary enforcement and blind luck.


Anonymous commented June 13, 2011 at 7:09 AM
“Limited Government Conservatives” are the driving force behind this victimless hunt.

‘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.

Anti-Abortion Zealots Kill Fetal Protection Bill

You’d think anti-abortion zealots might want to protect fetuses from criminal harm, right? Wrong.

“Right-fringe… abortion extremists” opposed Colorado House Bill 1256, as State Senator Pat Steadman told Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post, causing the bill’s sponsors to withdraw the measure concerning fetal protection.

As I’ve reviewed, Colorado law is deficient in that it criminalizes only intentional termination of a pregnancy (against the woman’s wishes). What if, through a criminal or reckless act, somebody unintentionally kills a woman’s wanted fetus? That’s what happened with the hit-and-run in Denver.

The new bill defined four levels of offense: intentionally killing a fetus after deliberation (against the woman’s wishes), intentionally killing a fetus without prior deliberation, recklessly causing the death of a fetus while knowing the woman is pregnant, and recklessly causing the death of a fetus without knowing the woman is pregnant. These basic categories of offense make a lot of sense, which is why I favored the bill (despite some problems with it).

In a subsequent op-ed, I offered the basic theoretical foundation for such a law: “Legal protections for a woman’s fetus properly extend from the legal rights of the woman herself.”

Why, then, did anti-abortion activists, who claim to want to protect fetuses, oppose the bill? On March 14, the Colorado Catholic Conference sent an action alert via email opposing 1256. This Catholic group offered two main arguments. First, the “bill fails to recognize an unborn child as a separate victim of homicide or assault,” as the bill explicitly states that a fetus is not a person under law. Second:

The Colorado Catholic Conference also opposes the fact that this bill seeks to repeal the criminal abortion statute that is still on the books in Colorado. The pro-life community looks forward to the day when Roe vs. Wade is overturned, and there is no benefit to the pro-life community to repeal our criminal abortion statute, even if currently it is not enforceable.

I take it this refers to statutes 18-6-101 through 18-6-105, which bill 1256 would have repealed. Statute 18-6-102 outlaws the ending of a “pregnancy of a woman by any means other than justified medical termination or birth.” The key, then, is what constitutes “justified medical termination,” which 18-6-101 defines. The measure severely restricts abortion to cases of likely death of the woman, “serious permanent impairment of the physical health of the woman” (including mental health), serious fetal deformity, cases where the woman is under sixteen, rape, and incest.

As I have argued, these statutes seriously violate the rights of pregnant women to get an abortion. But apparently the Colorado Catholic Conference would rather prevent actual laws that protect fetuses from criminal harm, in order to leave unenforceable statutes on the books that outlaw elective abortions.

This is just the latest illustration of how anti-abortion zealots undermine the rights and lives of actual people, in order to maintain the faith-based fantasy that a zygote is a person. So the next time a criminal gets away with killing a woman’s fetus, feel free to blame the anti-abortion crusaders who killed bill 1256.

Law Should Protect Wanted Fetuses While Allowing Abortions

The following article originally was published March 1 by Denver Daily News.

A hit and run in Denver last December killed a woman’s fetus and led to calls for new legislation. If someone harms a woman’s fetus against her will, whether intentionally or through negligence, what is the proper legal penalty?

We recognize a woman’s right to bear a child, and we condemn as viciously evil the intentional killing of a woman’s wanted fetus. Likewise, when negligence or criminal violence causes the death of a fetus, we regard that as horribly tragic and look for legal recourse.

But the fact that the law should protect a woman’s wanted fetus does not imply that the law should also prohibit women from getting an abortion, though opponents of abortion often argue as much.

The mistake is to think that, because the law should protect a woman’s wanted fetus, therefore the fetus is a person with full legal rights, just like every born child and adult.

Legal protections for a woman’s fetus properly extend from the legal rights of the woman herself. Every woman has the right to life, liberty, and the security of her person. One of a woman’s most profound choices is whether to bear a child. A pregnant woman who wants to bear a child devotes great care and resources to having a healthy baby, and she contemplates her fetus in anticipation of the independent person it will become. Therefore, killing a woman’s wanted fetus, whether intentionally or as the consequence of violence or negligence, violates that woman’s rights.

Likewise, because the woman is an independent person with full rights, whereas her fetus is totally contained within her body and not a biologically separate and independent person, the woman has the right to get an abortion if she chooses.

Unfortunately, some on the religious right have attempted to hijack the issue of fetal protection for backdoor attempts to outlaw abortion. For example, in 2010 Senator Dave Schultheis’s bill attempted to define a fetus as a person in a fetal homicide bill.

Whereas sensible fetal protection laws protect a woman’s rights to her own body and choices, legally defining a fetus as a person strips a woman of her rights. If a fetus is legally declared a person with the right to life, then, logically, the pregnant woman must be legally forbidden from getting an abortion, even if that endangers her health, and even if she must be imprisoned and physically restrained to force her to give birth.

Thankfully, newly introduced House Bill 1256 explicitly avoids conferring personhood to fetuses. Existing laws already criminalize the “unlawful termination of pregnancy,” and last year a Mesa County court sentenced a man to five years in prison for giving his pregnant former girlfriend an abortifacient without her knowledge, the Daily Sentinel reported. [See also my previous post.] The new bill creates four ranges of offense, ranging from recklessness to the deliberate killing of a woman’s wanted fetus.

Bill 1256 has some problems. Rather than outline the general principles applicable to call cases, it contains unnecessary language about committing an offense while driving a vehicle. Moreover, the bill obscures the important distinction between a fetus and a born child by referring to an “unborn child.” Such vague, non-objective language should be removed.

Overall, though, the new bill seeks to more fully protect women against crime and reckless acts. While the law should not be contorted to serve an anti-abortion agenda, it should consistently protect the rights of every born person, including the rights of a pregnant woman either to get an abortion or protect her fetus, as she chooses.

Ari Armstrong blogs at and is the coauthor of the paper, “The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life.”


Scott Evans commented March 15, 2011 at 9:50 AM
If a woman can have her unwanted preborn child killed, why can’t she have her unwanted already born child killed?

Ari commented March 15, 2011 at 10:12 AM
Scott, There’s a reason why I linked to the paper. Please feel free to leave another comment only after you seriously consider those arguments and have something intelligent to say about them. Thanks, -Ari

‘Unlawful Termination of a Pregnancy’

An odd Associated Press story published by today’s Denver Post discusses a new bill to make the “unlawful termination of a pregnancy” a felony. What is odd about it is that Colorado statutes already make that a felony. Given the AP reporter didn’t review the differences between existing statutes and the new bill, I’ll go ahead and do it.

Linked through the Colorado legislature page are the Colorado Revised Statutes. Following are the relevant statutes already on the books:

18-3.5-101. Unlawful termination of pregnancy.

(1) A person commits the offense of unlawful termination of a pregnancy if, with intent to terminate unlawfully the pregnancy of another person, the person unlawfully terminates the other person’s pregnancy.

(2) Unlawful termination of a pregnancy is a class 4 felony.

18-3.5-102. Exclusions.

Nothing in this article shall permit the prosecution of a person for providing medical treatment, including but not limited to an abortion, in utero treatment, or treatment resulting in live birth, to a pregnant woman for which the consent of the pregnant woman, or a person authorized by law to act on her behalf, has been obtained or for which consent is implied by law.

Last year a Mesa County court sentenced a man to five years in prison for this crime, the Daily Sentinel reported.

So how is the new bill, 1256, introduced February 11, different? Mainly, it is much more complicated. It defines “unlawful termination of a pregnancy” from the first through fourth degrees. It also defines “vehicular unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and aggravated vehicular unlawful termination of a pregnancy.”

While the bill improperly refers to “unborn children,” thereby obscuring the very large difference between a born child and a fetus, it “does not confer the status of ‘person’ upon a human embryo, fetus, or unborn child at any stage of development prior to live birth.”

It does make sense to increase the criminal penalties for deliberation and intent, as well as to criminalize reckless acts that cause the death of a fetus.

However, the sections pertaining to vehicles — which constitute the bulk of the bill — seem redundant; it shouldn’t matter in law whether somebody kills a woman’s fetus by recklessly driving a vehicle or through some other means. Notably, the sections pertaining to vehicles also include a lot of detail about driving under the influence of various substances, also unnecessary for this law. Obviously if someone is driving drunk, that is an instance of the broader category of reckless behavior.

In sum, this is a good bill overall that needs some amending. Specifically, the ambiguous, non-objective language about an “unborn child” should be removed, as should all the material specific to vehicles and operating vehicles under the influence of drugs. The legislature should strive to keep bills as short and simple as possible. However, because existing statutes on the matter are imprecise and don’t allow for varying degrees of offense, the new bill (unlike most of the bills floating through the legislature) serves a legitimate purpose of protecting the rights of pregnant women.

Republicans Endorse Absurd ‘Personhood’ Measure

Colorado Republicans better hope the Secretary of State finds that the “personhood” supporters — those who want to define a fertilized egg as a person will full legal rights — don’t have enough signatures for the ballot, after all.

Personhood Colorado announced today:

Personhood Colorado, sponsors of the 2010 Personhood Amendment, today submitted 46,671 signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

On March 4, the Colorado Secretary of State disclosed that 20.63% of the 79,648 signatures submitted by Personhood Colorado were invalid. As allowed by Colorado law, volunteers then had 15 days to replace the invalid signatures with new, valid voter signatures. That translated to over 1,000 signatures per day.

The Huffington Post also reports the story.

For a comprehensive explanation for why the measure is wrong in theory and horrifying in practice, see the paper on the 2008 version of the measure by Diana Hsieh and me. In brief, the measure if fully implemented would outlaw practically all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and risk to the woman’s health; outlaw common forms of birth control including the pill; and outlaw most fertility treatments involving egg implantation.

Even more disturbing, many Colorado Republicans have endorsed the measure. I already knew that underdog candidate for governor, Dan Maes, endorsed it, though he seems confused by some of the measure’s implications.

Today I learned from the Christian Family Alliance of Colorado that Ken Buck — a strong challenger for U.S. Senate — and both Cory Gardner and Tom Lucero — who are trying to upset Betsy Markey in the Fourth Congressional — have also endorsed the measure.

I want to make something clear at the outset, just so no Republicans are surprised later on: I will vote against any candidate who endorses the monstrous “personhood” measure. That is, I will not abstain from voting, I will vote for the Democrat, as my strongest available statement.

Of course, there is still time for any candidate who has endorsed the measure to repent, confess the error of his or her ways, and articulate a position closer to sanity.

Did Republicans somehow fail to notice that the 2008 “personhood” measure got trounced, and overall voters responded negatively to the faith-based politics of the GOP?

Of course, 2010 is a new election cycle, and voters may be so utterly disgusted with the Democrats’ handling of the economy that they may vote Republican, regardless of what loons the GOP throws up.

Betsy Markey, for example, has said she plans to vote for the disgusting Democratic health bill, giving me the impression that she has already resigned to losing. (I’m not in Markey’s district, thankfully, so I won’t have to hold my nose and vote for her, assuming her opponents stick with their foolish endorsements of “personhood.”)

Likewise, I don’t think either Michael Bennet or Andrew Romanoff can keep the U.S. Senate seat for the Dems, regardless of who the opponent is. Those two are hard-left Denver Democrats, and they’ve had to run further left in the primary. Still, it could become a tough race, and “personhood” offers rich ground for effective attack ads. (So far as I can determine, Jane Norton, still the most likely candidate, has remained silent on the “personhood” issue.)

In the governor’s race, John Hickenlooper is avoiding a primary and trumpeting his pro-business sentiments and credentials. I think Hickenlooper will be pretty tough to beat. Like Norton, frontrunner Scott McInnis has (so far as I can tell) remained silent on “personhood,” but he has tried to toe the anti-abortion line, so the appearance of the “personhood” measure on the ballot could still hurt him significantly. If the measure indeed makes the ballot, voters will be continually reminded about the ultimate aims of the anti-abortion zealots and the severe harms their laws would impose.

Do I despise Democrats or Republicans more? As today’s political news illustrates, that depends entirely on which party I’m thinking of at a given moment.

Update: Welcome Denver Post readers.

For more information about the “personhood” measure in its 2010 form, please see the following two articles.

What Are the Implications of ‘Personhood?’

‘Christian Soldiers’ Seek Abortion Ban

What Are the Implications of ‘Personhood?’

If fully implemented, the so-called “personhood” measure that may again appear on Colorado’s ballot to define a fertilized egg as a person will outlaw all or almost all abortions, excepting procedures necessary to save the life of the woman. On that point advocates and critics of the measure agree. More contentious are claims about the measure’s impact on birth control, fertility treatments, and legal issues surrounding miscarriages and women’s health.

Ironically, a document from PersonhoodCO (the organization supporting the measure), “Scare Tactic Alert”, attacks straw men, ignores substantive criticism, and obscures key issues of the debate even as it promises to reveal the “outright lies” of critics and to give “truthful answers.” However, the document does clearly reveal the intentions of the measure’s supporters on a number of important points. It is worth reviewing to note both where it misleads and where it clarifies the positions of the measure’s sponsors.

“It Will Ban Abortion”

The document says flatly of the measure: “It will ban abortion.” If passed and implemented, it will ban all elective abortions. It will ban all abortions even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity.

Embryonic Stem-Cell Research Will Be Banned

Under the “personhood” measure, any scientific research or medical procedure that involved the destruction of a fertilized egg (or embryo at any stage) would be outlawed, as the measure’s sponsors loudly declare.

Abortion Will Be Deemed Murder

The document makes clear that, under the “personhood” measure, a woman will be criminally charged for getting an abortion. A woman will be charged with a crime if she “acted with criminal culpability which includes the performance of an act and a matching criminal intent. These standards would be the same as would be applied to any mother who harms her children, born or preborn.”

The document confirms: “actions taken with criminal intent will be punished under the existing criminal code, irrespective of whether the child is in or out of the womb.”

Abortion Could Trigger the Death Penalty

Not only would abortion be considered murder under the “personhood” measure, it could be punished with the death penalty. This applies both to doctors who perform abortions and women who get them.

The document denies that the measure “will threaten doctors who perform legitimate surgeries.” However, a “legitimate” surgery, according to the document, cannot include any intention “to kill the child in the womb.”

The document states: “In Colorado, the death penalty is only available for first degree murder with aggravating factors. First degree murder requires deliberation and intent.”

While the document does not directly state that the death penalty could also apply to women who obtain abortions, the document states that women will be punished “under the existing criminal code.” By implication, if a woman deliberately and intentionally aborts an embryo or fetus, she could be subject to the death penalty.

Colorado Statute 18-1.3-1201(1)(a) states, “Upon conviction of guilt of a defendant of a class 1 felony, the trial court shall conduct a separate sentencing hearing to determine whether the defendant should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment…”

Birth Control That Can Prevent Implantation Will be Outlawed

The “Scare Tactic Alert” document claims it is a “lie” that the measure “will ban contraception.” However, the document also defines “contraception” strictly to mean something that prevents the fertilization of an egg. Any form of birth control that prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus will be outlawed under the measure. Notably, this includes the birth control pill.

The document states: “the beginning of life (under normal sexual reproduction) takes place when the sperm touches the ovum. Barrier methods of contraception that prevent the union of the sperm and the egg will not be outlawed, since neither a sperm nor an egg by itself is a human being.”

The birth control pill acts primarily as a contraceptive, in that it prevents the fertilization of an egg. However, according to the documentation distributed by the manufacturers of the birth control pill, it can also act to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.

For example, my wife takes TriNessa. According to WebMD, this birth control pill acts to “prevent pregnancy in 3 ways. One way is by preventing the release of an egg (ovulation). A second way is by changing the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for an egg to meet sperm (fertilization). A third way is by changing the womb lining, making it difficult for a fertilized egg to attach to the lining of the womb (implantation).”

Watson Pharmaceuticals, the producer of TriNessa, agrees that this pill can act to “reduce the likelihood of implantation.”

As Diana Hsieh and I review in our paper on the subject (page 4), the birth control pill is more effective than condoms at preventing unwanted pregnancy. My wife and I find it to be the best form of birth control for us, and we utterly reject the insane claims of of the “personhood” advocates that using the birth control pill is morally wrong, much less the equivalent of murder that should subject women to severe criminal penalties.

Most Fertility Treatments Would Be Outlawed

PersonhoodCO claims it is a “lie” that the measure “will ban in vitro fertilization.” However, as Diana and I explain in our paper, fertility treatments generally involve the destruction of fertilized eggs as a necessary aspect of effective treatment (see pages 6-7).

The “Scare Tactic Alert” document admits that fertility treatments that involve the destruction of fertilized eggs would be banned. The measure would, in effect, practically ban fertility treatments for nearly all women.

As Diana and I summarize, “[F]ertility clinics would be left with two options. They could fertilize one egg at a time, vastly raising the costs and time of the procedure because most eggs don’t fertilize. Or they could implant all fertilized eggs into the woman, in some cases posing a health risk or producing more children than a couple can raise well. The practical result of Amendment 48 likely would be to shut down Colorado’s seven reproductive clinics.”

Doctors Would Be Subject to Prosecutorial Oversight

PersonhoodCO states, “[I]n those extremely rare situations where a woman needs treatment that might unintentionally result in the death of the child, the doctor would not have acted with intent to kill or even harm the child, but with intent to cure the mother.” (Note here that PersonhoodCO is simply defining any procedure “where a woman needs treatment” as not counted as an “abortion.”) Furthermore, when abortion was outlawed “there were no prosecutions of doctors for legitimate medical treatment,” the document claims.

There are two main problems with these claims of PersonhoodCO. First, what counts as a “legitimate medical treatment” is precisely the issue in question. Now, who decides such matters is the woman in consultation with her doctor. Under the “personhood” measure, politicians, prosecutors, and judges will decide. Knowing this, doctors will tend to err on the side of not acting to protect a woman’s health. If a doctor chooses not to take action in a difficult case, he will suffer no criminal penalty even if the woman dies. If the doctor chooses to act, he may be charged with murdering a zygote by a prosecutor who doubts the procedure was necessary.

Second, today doctors have much better equipment and procedures than they had several decades ago, so doctors today simply have more opportunities to medically intervene to protect a woman’s health.

The broader issue is that doctors may effectively be prevented from acting in cases where “only” the woman’s health, rather than her life, is at risk. By the logic of the “personhood” measure, a doctor should at least sometimes allow a woman to suffer long-term health consequences in order to save a zygote. The measure takes such determinations out of the hands of women and doctors and places them in the hands of government officials.

Suspicious Miscarriages Could Invite Prosecution

PersonhoodCO claims it is a “lie” that the measure “will threaten women who miscarry with criminal prosecution.” The problem with that claim is that telling the difference between an unintentional miscarriage and an intentional act can be difficult. Who gets to decide whether a woman’s diet, herbal remedies, or physical damage was intended to cause an abortion? Again, under the “personhood” measure, the answer is government officials, so far as prosecution is concerned.

The Abortion Industry?

One of the more dishonest claims made by PersonhoodCO is that criticisms are coming from “the abortion industry.” No doubt clinics that perform abortions also oppose the measure. However, many independent critics, including Diana and me, are in no way a part of the “abortion industry,” and PersonhoodCO’s smears are childish and dishonest.

Diana and I wrote our paper, Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person, without financial compensation. We wrote and promoted that paper because we are horrified by the vicious nature of the “personhood” measure.

Any reader of our paper will realize that PersonhoodCO is attacking straw men in its “Scare Tactic Alert.” We do not, for example, claim that the measure “will ban contraception.” Instead, we claim, as PersonhoodCO itself claims, that the measure will ban forms of birth control that may prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.


At least the “Scare Tactic Alert” clearly lays out many of the intentions and implications of the “personhood” measure. Unfortunately, the document also smears critics of the measure, distorts what critics of the measure have said about it, ignores substantive criticism published in 2008, and understates the impacts of the measure in areas such as the potential for criminal prosecution in cases of suspicious miscarriages.

By implying that all criticisms of the “personhood” measure are “scare tactics,” PersonhoodCO wrongly suggests that substantive criticisms of the measure have been exaggerated. Notably, not a single advocate of the “personhood” measure has attempted to directly refute anything from the 2008 paper.

Critics of the “personhood” measure do not need to resort to “scare tactics” to defeat it. The objective facts about the measure and its implications are truly horrifying.

‘Personhood’ Measure May Lack Signatures

The so-called “personhood” effort, which would ludicrously define a fertilized egg as a “person” with full legal rights, submitted signatures for the 2010 ballot on February 12. The number of valid signatures may fall short of the legally required minimum, and, should the Secretary of State declare as much, the group will have an additional fifteen days to try to close the gap.

I imagine no one in the state is happier about the measure’s potential demise than Republican strategists, who are busily attempting to persuade voters that this year’s election is about jobs, not the GOP’s promiscuous relationship with the religious right.

I knew the effort was in trouble when, the day before the deadline, thePersonhood CO web page announced the group still needed “hundreds of signatures” to make the ballot.

Keith Mason of Personhood USA put a happy face on the effort in a February 12 media release, completely ignoring the likely problem of invalid names. Mason announced, “The signatures submitted totaled 79,817, although only 76,047 were required.” The release claims, “Once the signatures are verified by the Colorado Secretary of State, the amendment will be placed on the 2010 ballot and put to a vote.”

Wendy Norris offers a more realistic assessment at RH [Reproductive Health] Reality Check:

Tyler Chafee, senior associate with RBI Strategies and Research, said, “There is very little chance that voters will be seeing this measure on the 2010 ballot.”

State initiatives generally try to collect 30 percent more signatures than required to cover the expected names that are disqualified because they are not registered voters. Chafee predicts the latest attempt by anti-choice activists will fall about 13,000 signatures short. He based his estimate on the same signature approval rate, a relatively high 79 percent ratio, on the group’s 2008 petitions. In that campaign, more than 131,000 names were submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State, almost double the required number and 50,000 more than this go-around.

Norris also explains what happens next:

Now, the secretary of state’s office now has 30 days to verify that the petition signatures are from legally registered voters. … Should the campaign come up short, proponents will have an additional 15 days to secure the remaining signatures needed.

But based on the daily signature gathering rate over the 172 days they circulated petitions through Friday’s deadline, the group would have to get new names at twice that clip to reach the estimated 13,000 deficit within two weeks.

Aside from her wishy-washy comment that the measure “just goes too far,” Amanda Mountjoy of the Republican Majority for Choice released an admirably strong condemnation of the proposal:

Today [February 12] marks a setback in our state’s efforts to overcome the wave of big government intrusion and waste sweeping our nation. The problem with the “personhood” amendment lies in its fundamental contradiction. It poses as a measure designed to protect basic rights. In fact, personhood would violate the rights of Colorado women by granting competing rights to a fertilized egg, and would put government smack dab in the middle of medical decisions ranging from birth control, to in-vitro fertilization, to miscarriages, and abortion.

As Republicans, we cannot sit by while single-issue fundamentalists dramatically change our state constitution. We are already disheartened over the creation of new big government bureaucracies in Washington, DC. We will not allow those same intrusions to take hold in our state and hand over government control on such private decisions.

The media coverage of the measure reveals a great deal about the motives of its supporters. I will write a subsequent post about that. For now, though, I hold out hope that the measure won’t make the ballot. I have plenty of battles to fight already!

For background, see the paper on the 2008 measure:
Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person