As I’ve pointed out, Kristi Burton likes to pretend that Amendment 48 wouldn’t have the nasty legal implications that her opponents claim.
But on October 14, Burton even backed away from her opposition to abortion, telling a crowd, “We’re not saying outlaw abortion, do this, do that. It’s simply a definition.”
Apparently, Burton believes that Amendment 48 has a shot only if she lies about her intentions. The advocates of the measure most certainly are “saying outlaw abortion.” Burton herself has said elsewhere that she sees Amendment 48 as an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.
What should we make of Burton’s claim that Amendment 48 is “simply a definition?” As I wrote in an e-mail in reply to that question, “Amendment 48 would amend the Colorado constitution. Constitutional provisions are laws; they are laws of higher order than legislative statutes. If a statute contradicts a constitutional provision, courts will look to the constitution as the higher law. Many laws contain definitions, and the definitions are critical for how the law is interpreted and applied. So it’s a mistake to think of Amendment 48 as merely a definition; it would add a definition to the state’s constitution, thereby becoming part of the fundamental law that guides the passage and application of legislative statutes.”
Of course, as Diana Hsieh and I point out in our paper, whether and to what extent Amendment 48 is implemented depends on federal as well as state court rulings. As Ed Quillen points out, neither the legislature nor the courts always follow existing constitutional language. However, in our paper Diana and I explain why that’s hardly comforting:
The legislature and courts in Colorado might be strongly tempted to pretend that Amendment 48 doesn’t mean what it plainly says in order to avoid its absurd implications. Such a course of legislative and judicial winking might save Colorado from the worst effects of the measure, but it would do so by undermining the basic principle of rule of law so essential to a free society.
Alternately, the Colorado legislature could try to rewrite the myriad statutes mentioning “person” or “persons” to exclude fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. However, anti-abortion lawyers could effectively challenge such legislative changes based on the constitutional language of Amendment 48. The measure would be subject to interpretation by Colorado courts, but those courts would be legally bound by the constitution, including Amendment 48.
If Amendment 48 passes, its exact effects would depend greatly on the decisions of future legislators and judges. However, we can be sure that the advocates of Amendment 48 will work doggedly to force the Colorado government to fully implement and enforce the measure.
As Burton demonstrates, “half the truth is a great lie.” True, Amendment 48 would not automatically be enforced. However, the advocates of Amendment 48 have put it forward precisely because they want to outlaw abortion and in every other way legally protect a fertilized egg. For Burton to pretend otherwise proves only that she knows she cannot win an honest debate.