Resolved: Republicans Are Schizophrenic on Abortion

As I recently noted, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton has endorsed the “personhood” ballot measure to grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. Every other leading Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and governor has done the same.

So Colorado Republicans are over-the-top crazy for abortion bans, right? Perhaps.

At the recent state convention, Republicans passed 59 resolutions ranging from a condemnation of “net neutrality” to a recommendation to vote against retention of four state Supreme Court justices. Most of the resolutions passed with near-unanimity. The only resolutions to garner double-digit opposition pertain to the line-item veto, Congressional term limits, and abortion and reproductive matters.

Particularly odd is the apparently contradictory vote on abortion, as illustrated by the following results:

30. It is resolved by Colorado Republicans that life begins at conception and is deserving of legal protection from conception until natural death.
Total Votes 3008
YES 2378 79.06%
NO 630 20.94%

31. It is resolved that Colorado Republicans support overturning Roe v. Wade.
Total Votes 2991
YES 2340 78.23%
NO 651 21.77%

32. It is resolved by Colorado Republicans that pregnancy, abortion, and birth control are personal private matters not subject to government regulation or interference.
Total Votes 2984
YES 2210 74.06%
NO 774 25.94%

It is interesting to note that, at the convention, where the most hard-core Republican activists gathered, one in five strongly rejected abortion-ban language.

But what explains the clash between resolutions 30 and 32 (assuming the results were correctly reported)? How can so many Republicans simultaneously advocate legal rights for fertilized eggs and declare “that pregnancy, abortion, and birth control are personal private matters not subject to government regulation or interference?”

One possible explanation is that most of those voting rushed through the measures and had no idea what they were voting to support. But I’d like to think the participants took the exercise a little more seriously than that.

Why might somebody intentionally vote “yes” on both 30 and 32? First notice the ambiguities of Resolution 30. The fact that, in some sense, “life begins at conception,” says nothing about whether that life is a person with full legal rights. (Technically, life precedes conception, in that both the egg and the sperm are alive.) Moreover, the nature of the “legal protection” is not specified. I agree that a woman’s embryo or fetus deserves legal protection as an extension of the rights of the woman; it is properly illegal to harm a fetus against the wishes of the woman carrying it.

I think a lot of Republicans dislike irresponsible sex that results in unwanted pregnancies. (Who doesn’t dislike that?) Many Republicans, I believe, allow themselves to blur the line between disapproval of irresponsible behavior resulting in abortion and legal prohibitions of abortion. Such Republicans think it’s sad that some women get abortions (and it is), and they don’t bother to think carefully about the implications of the bans advocated by the religious right. (For a detailed account of those implications, see the paper by Diana Hsieh and me.)

Do most Republicans really want to send women, their doctors, and their complicit spouses to prison for facilitating abortions? Do most Republicans really want to outlaw the birth control pill and the IUD because those things might cause the destruction of a fertilized egg? Do most Republicans really want to outlaw common fertility treatments that result in the destruction of fertilized eggs? Do most Republicans really want to empower police and prosecutors to go after women who miscarry under suspicious circumstances? Do most Republicans really want to put decisions about a woman’s health in the hands of politicians, bureaucrats, and prosecutors?

I don’t think so.

What, then, explains the fact that Republican candidates are falling all over themselves to endorse the “personhood” measure, Amendment 62?

Apparently those candidates think their endorsements will gain religious right votes in the primaries without costing them much support among Republicans who dislike the measure.

Consider a May 24 announcement from Jane Norton’s campaign:

Today, Jane Norton, candidate for U.S. Senate, announced two major conservative endorsements. The American Conservative Union PAC (ACU PAC) and the Family Research Council Action PAC (FRC Action PAC) recognized Norton’s conservative credentials and endorsed her bid for the U.S. Senate. …

“Jane Norton has been a true friend of the family in Colorado and will continue to do so when elected to the Senate. We need Senators who will fight to defend the family against the radicalism of the Left in the U.S. Senate, and who won’t be a rubber stamp for the President’s extreme agenda. We are confident Ms. Norton will serve with distinction,” said Tony Perkins, chairman of FRC Action PAC.

“Jane has been a leader in the fight to protect the unborn, and has worked to keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. As the executive director of the Public Health Department in Colorado, Jane was instrumental in de-funding Planned Parenthood in her state. She has been a true champion for faith, family and freedom,” added Perkins.

“Her years of experience as a leader for pro-family causes in Colorado will serve Ms. Norton well in the Senate. FRC Action PAC believes that Jane Norton will be a true advocate for the issues that best uphold and strengthen families. We are proud to support her candidacy,” concluded Perkins.

Earlier this year, Norton also won the endorsement of the Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative, pro-life organization.

Norton has also sought, and received, the support of Sarah Palin, known for her anti-abortion sentiments.

Yet Republicans who pander to the religious right or tolerate its horrific, police-state proposals are fools. Such Republicans wistfully hope that Amendment 62 doesn’t really mean what its sponsors say it means, or that it will never really be enforced. They play a dangerous game.



Ex Pat Ex Lawyer May 26, 2010 at 7:13 AM

Great post, Ari. When I read the resolutions I was puzzled too. Note that Ken Buck also signed on to this ludicrous and clearly unconstitutional amendment. It’s even worse for him as a lawyer to support unconstitutional actions. It doesn’t matter that as a DA he’s in the executive branch. Each branch has an obligation to enforce the constitution.

He’s at two strikes now after the fishing expedition tax preparer raid that sought and obtained every single record of that preparer. Now this. Hope we don’t get a third. For the record, I am undecided on Senate and think we need to hear a whole lot more from both of them soon.

Did Jane Norton Endorse Amendment 62? Yes!

UPDATE: Today at 1:17 p.m., I received the following conclusive email from Cinamon Watson: “Jane supports the personhood amendment.” I thank Watson and Norton’s office for this forthright and definitive answer to my question. Of course, that does not explain how Norton’s previously expressed views about exceptions in cases of rape and incest fit in with her endorsement of Amendment 62. What follows was written earlier today and provides the background of the story.

Okay, John Tomasic, now you may legitimately complain that Jane Norton’s office is not responsive to my questions.

Does Jane Norton endorse the “personhood” measure, Amendment 62 on this year’s state ballot?

It is a simple yes or no question, a question that Norton has so far refused to answer.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Norton is the presumed Republican frontrunner for U.S. Senate. Amendment 62 is the measure that would grant fertilized eggs full legal rights; I criticized it in February in a first and second article. I also coauthored a lengthy criticism of the measure in its 2008 form.

I already knew that Ken Buck and Dan Maes, underdog candidates for U.S. Senate and governor, respectively, endorsed personhood. They seem to really believe it’s a good idea, and they have nothing to lose and religious right votes to pick up. But, given 73 percent of voters trounced the 2008 version of the measure, I was surprised to read that Norton and Scott McInnis, the frontrunners in the races, had also endorsed “personhood.”

I first read the claim about the endorsements of Norton and McInnis on May 10 at Even though Colorado Pols cited a Grand Junction Daily Sentinel article about the endorsements, I did not see enough evidence to convince me at that time. In my Twitter post linking to that article, I stated, “I have not seen evidence of these alleged endorsements.”

On May 11, the Colorado Independent, also citing the Sentinel, stated, “This year, the entire slate of Republican candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate are supporting the [‘personhood’] amendment.”

My dad Linn heard McInnis endorse the measure in person. So McInnis’s endorsement is not in question. But, until today, I still did not have a good sense of whether Norton had endorsed it.

Here is what the May 10 Sentinel article by Charles Ashby states:

The last time the personhood amendment made the Colorado ballot in 2008, a number of anti-abortion Republican leaders either distanced themselves from it or outright opposed the idea because they said it went too far.

None of that seems to be the case with the 2010 version of the measure, political observers say.

As a result, all of the top-named GOP candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate have publicly supported the ballot question that would declare that life begins at conception. …

[W[hile [Gualberto] Garcia Jones [director of Personhood Colorado] disagreed with arguments against the 2008 ballot question now just as much as he did then, he was surprised to learn it’s winning support among such mainstream political candidates as Jane Norton and Ken Buck, who are running for U.S. Senate, and Dan Maes and Scott McInnis, who announced his support for the idea at a Western Colorado Conservative Alliance debate last week.

The article offers a particular event where McInnis endorsed the measure, but it offers no such detail about Norton. So I remained curious.

I called Cinamon Watson, a spokesperson for Norton, on May 17. Watson confirmed she was aware of the Sentinel story. I asked her whether it was true or false that Norton had endorsed “personhood.” Watson said she would send me the answer via email.

By yesterday (May 19), I still had not heard back, so I called Watson again. “I will get it to you today,” she said. I left her a voice mail near the end of the day. Today, after trying to reach Watson by her cell phone and at Norton’s office, I finally received an email. Drum roll please…

Sorry this did not get to you yesterday:

“Jane believes that life begins at conception.”

I had to wait three days for that?

The perceptive reader may notice that Watson did not, in fact, answer my question.

Thankfully, the good Mr. Ashby was more helpful. Late last night I sent Ashby an email asking him about the Norton endorsement.

Ashby referred me to Norton’s web site:

The U. S. Constitution does not specifically speak about a right to an abortion. For decades, this important issue was left to the states to decide. In 1973, the U. S. Supreme Court, in the case of Roe v. Wade, ruled that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution included a right to privacy which, in turn, included a right to an abortion. While I believe this decision was wrongly decided and should be overturned, it is unfortunately the law of the land today. I would support a Constitutional Amendment to protect unborn human life and will strive to promote a culture of life where all life (including the elderly, children, disabled, ill, and the unborn) is valued and protected. While I believe there may be certain limited circumstances – rape, incest, and life of the mother – when exceptions are needed, I oppose abortion because I believe human life begins at conception. I will oppose all federal funding of abortion. I support the appointment of judges to federal courts, including the Supreme Court, who will strictly construe the U. S. Constitution and not manufacture new rights or remedies not specifically provided for by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution.

By my reading, that statement does not constitute an endorsement of Amendment 62. I think the “Constitutional Amendment” to which Norton refers likely is an unspecified federal measure. Further, Norton’s exceptions for rape and incest clearly contradict the impact of Amendment 62, as Colorado Right to Life recognizes: “Republican Jane Norton has supported ‘abortion exceptions’ in the past (i.e. for rape & incest, which is from our perspective ‘pro-abortion with exceptions’).”

So what I think happened is that Ashby unintentionally misinterpreted the intended meaning of Norton’s web page as the support for his claim that Norton endorsed “personhood.” [Update: Ashby continues to think that his original reading of Norton’s web page was the correct one. Regardless of whether Norton intended to endorse Amendment 62 on her web page, obviously now her endorsement of it is entirely clear.]

Ashby also unintentionally put Norton in a tight corner just before the state assembly, which is this Saturday.

Apparently Norton’s strategy was to remain silent on Amendment 62 and respond with vague generalities in the hopes of appeasing both sides. Ashby’s report upset the fence on which Norton was perched and made the world believe she had endorsed “personhood.” The last thing Norton wants to do is take a definitive stand on the issue. If she now declares she does not, after all, endorse the measure, that will infuriate the religious right, which wields significant power in the GOP primaries. If she affirms that she does endorse it, that will open her up to hard-hitting attacks in the general election.

And so she continues to dodge the question.

At least Buck has the courage of his convictions on this score, though he is, by my lights, dead wrong.

I will send Watson the link to this article. If Norton sends me a more clarifying response, I will update this page accordingly. [Please see the update at the top of this article, which shows that Norton definitively endorses “personhood.”]

This Norton conundrum does illustrate nicely the problems that continue to plague the Republican Party.



Anonymous May 20, 2010 at 11:51 PM
Buck has no convictions. He didn’t even take a stance on the life issue until Jane Norton got in the race. Check the timeline.

Ari May 21, 2010 at 12:06 AM

Anonymous: If you know the timeline, why not reveal the details here, with relevant citations?

Godless American May 23, 2010 at 7:58 PM
So, if the fertilized egg is a person then what would it be a woman has a miscarriage? Child abandonment, maybe?

Could a father, theoretically, file for custody of the “person” and demand removal of the fertilized egg?

Would a woman need to undergo OB/GYN inspection after each and every case of sexual intercourse?

If a woman, ignorant of any egg being fertilized, is caught drinking alcohol/smoking cigarettes/etc. would she be prosecuted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor?

Does a pregnant woman having sex therefore also equate child molestation because of the presence of the “person”?

Could a woman begin collecting Welfare and other child related social services the moment the egg is fertilized?

kevin May 30, 2010 at 4:42 PM

At the Republican gathering at the jeffco fairgrounds NORTON’S first words were PRO-LIFE.Buck made no mention of PRO-LIFE there or in LOVELAND.While i don’t like the exceptions jane makes,she has a proven record of defunding planned parenthood & i voted for owens twice.I caucused for NORTON and at this point will vote for her in the PRIMARIES. Good-Day delegate KEVIN KELLY IN LAKEWOOD.MY

ObamaCare and Abortion

One of the big fights leading up to the vote on the Democratic health bill (ObamaCare) was over abortion funding. The basic dilemma is whether tax-subsidized health care — and taxes already fund most U.S. health costs — will cover abortions.

What both sides seem to forget is that, when politicians control health care, it turns out that politicians control health care. So whether politicians will permit tax funds to subsidize abortions depends entirely on which politicians get into power.

Anti-abortion Christians who think that an executive order or even an explicit legislative declaration can permanently prevent the tax subsidization of abortions are simply delusional. Various Catholic groups endorse politically run medicine but insist that it not subsidize abortions. But when you render unto Caesar the control of medicine, Caesar will dip into tax funds to pay for whatever medical procedures he damn well pleases. That U.S. medicine is controlled by thousands of pigmy Caesars who vote, bicker, and draft reams of regulations first does not alter that basic fact.

Leftists who wish to protect a woman’s right to choose to get an abortion, but who deny to all women and men the right to associate freely to obtain medicine and insurance, should contemplate a possible future in which the religious right seizes control of the political machinery built by the left. Prohibitions on the tax funding of abortions will be the least of our worries.

I have some questions for the religious right. Do you really care, at all, about liberty in medicine? Does forcing somebody to finance a kidney transplant register a blip on your moral radar? Or are you perfectly fine with the forcible redistribution of wealth to fund health care, so long as it doesn’t include abortions? If the left offered to completely ban abortions, in exchange for the complete political control of medicine, is that a bargain you’d happily accept?

I have only a couple of questions for the left. What sort of world do you think we’ll be living in if the religious right takes over the Democratic health law? How is politically run health care remotely consistent with the exhortation to “keep your laws off of my body?”

I don’t really expect either the religious right or the left to attempt to answer these questions. Even the attempt to answer them would indicate some residual concern with liberty and individual rights, which I do not believe that many on either side any longer possess.



Sherrill March 25, 2010 at 11:22 AM

the only comment I have is that the solution is that our government stay out of our healthcare then both sides are in check, no?

JustinAC March 25, 2010 at 2:29 PM

If you ask someone on the right why they oppose tax funded abortions, they are likely to say, “I do not want my money funding something as offensive and immoral as the killing of fetus. I refuse to fund that.” Of course, the easy reply is, “Well, I do not want my money funding something as immoral and offensive as the killing of civilians in countries that never attacked us. Nor do I want my money going towards cages that lock nonviolent criminals up.” If folks could opt out of funding acts which they considered immoral, then our military industrial complex would crumble (along with many, many other atrocities). I just find it funny that the right is offended by abortion, yet they embrace the killing of innocents abroad.

Trevor March 26, 2010 at 4:14 PM

Facebooked. Your point about the religious right taking over the political machinery put in place by the left is truly chilling. I hadn’t even considered that consequence.

TJWelch March 30, 2010 at 6:38 PM

I remember thinking a similar thought during the debates over the Patriot Act and its extensions: would the right really want to be living in a world where the left took over the political machinery the right put in place?

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.

‘Christian Soldiers’ Seek Abortion Ban

Anyone still unclear about the faith-based impetus of abortion bans should consider that, at a recent news conference, advocates of the so-called “personhood” measure broke out singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (as reported by the Denver Daily News). The proposal would grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs, banning abortion and any other action that could harm a zygote or embryo, with the possible exception of procedures to save a pregnant woman’s life.

As I noted earlier today, the “personhood” measure seems to be in trouble, as the number of certified signatures will likely fall below the required minimum. As the News also points out, the number of signatures collected this year is nearly forty percent lower than the number collected in 2008. Wendy Norris notes that this year’s news conference attracted only around twenty-five participants, a third of the 2008 showing. (Meanwhile, Norris reports, infighting has overtaken a national group supportive of the “personhood” drive.) While such internal struggles are good news to those favoring legal sanity and reproductive rights, the movement remains a potent threat, and one that must be fought on ideological grounds.

Obviously, the “personhood” movement is grounded in sectarian, religious faith. The purpose of the group is to impose sectarian beliefs by political force. (We will properly leave aside the fact that the Christian Bible does not actually demand abortion bans.)

Norris offers additional detail about the news conference. Gualberto Garcia Jones, one of the measure’s main supporters, referred to advocates of the measure as an “army of faithful pro-life warriors.” Leslie Hanks, another speaker at the conference, “thanked Focus on the Family Founder Dr. James Dobson.” Hanks also recognized the Reverend Bob Enyart, who has advocated the death penalty for doctors and women who facilitate or obtain an abortion once the practice is outlawed (see page 16, note 1; see also Enyart’s YouTube video on the matter, in which Enyart also advocates the death penalty for adultery).

As Westword reports, Keith Mason, spokesman for Personhood USA, has no intention of giving up: “we’re going to keep fighting until we win.”

Ironically, Personhood USA’s own media release makes no mention of the group’s faith-based roots. That did not cause Christian News Wire, “the nation’s leading distributor of religious press releases,” from suffering any confusion on the point.

Though the advocates of the measure clearly want to ban abortion because they believe such is the will of God, their formal arguments make scant reference to sectarian beliefs, for two reasons. First, the organizers want to potentially appeal to those of different worldviews, including other Christians who doubt their religion demands a ban on abortion. Second, the organizers are aware that strictly faith-based arguments likely would not withstand judicial scrutiny, which is why, for instance, advocates of “Intelligent Design” in tax-funded schools tried to distance their arguments from their sectarian origins.

Regardless of the motives behind the measure, its critics must defeat the arguments made in the proposal’s favor, even when those arguments are merely pretext for a sectarian purpose.

Diana Hsieh and I thoroughly critiqued the “personhood” measure in our 2008 paper, Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person. Here it is worth pointing out the textual change of the measure as well as some of the bad arguments that continue to be made in the proposal’s favor.

The 2008 measure stated, “As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.” Those other sections pertain to rights to life, liberty, property, equality of justice, and due process of law.

The 2010 proposal changes the language: “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.”

Why the change? Mason explains to Westword:

The differences between this year’s amendment and its 2008 predecessor “are minor,” Mason concedes. “There’s a slight change in the language. Now it says a person is a human being ‘from the beginning of the biological development of that human being’ in lieu of ‘from the moment of fertilization.'”

He credits this change to Dianne Irving, a faculty member at Georgetown University: “She felt using the term ‘biological beginning’ was more inclusive and would include all babies—even test tube babies. And that’s our goal—to protect every human.”

In other words, the language was changed to make the measure even broader. Its advocates want the measure to do everything the 2008 language would have done, plus protect non-fertilized zygotes potentially created through cloning.

Ironically, though, the change in language could actually give the courts (so long as they are not overrun by religious zealots) license to interpret the measure less broadly, not more. The courts could define a “human being” as starting its “biological development” from birth. While the implications of the 2008 language were anything but clear, at least that language unambiguously referred to “fertilization.” The new language is by one natural interpretation essentially a tautology: something is a human being from the moment it is a human being. But when something becomes a “human being” in the sense of personhood is precisely the issue in question.

This definitional problem points to a fundamental error made by those advocating the “personhood” measure. As Diana Hsieh and I wrote in 2008:

[T]he advocates of Amendment 48 depend on an equivocation on “human being” to make their case. A fertilized egg is human, in the sense that it contains human DNA. It is also a “being,” in the sense that it is an entity. That’s also true of a gallbladder: it is human and it is an entity. Yet that doesn’t make your gallbladder a human person with the right to life. Similarly, the fact that an embryo is biologically a human entity is not grounds for claiming that it’s a human person with a right to life. Calling a fertilized egg a “human being” is word-play intended to obscure the vast biological differences between a fertilized egg traveling down a woman’s fallopian tube and a born infant sleeping in a crib. It is intended to obscure the fact that anti-abortion crusaders base their views on scripture and authority, not science.

No doubt the advocates of the proposal will seek to argue that “the beginning of the biological development of that human being” (normally) refers to the moment of fertilization. Those advocates have made it abundantly clear that their long-term goal is to elect sectarian politicians who will appoint sectarian judges who will interpret the “personhood” measure to grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. In the meantime, however, if the “personhood” measure were passed, it would generate years of expensive and unresolved legal wars.

At least the advocates of the measure are clear that they do in fact want to ban abortion from the moment of conception. Garcia-Jones said, “The point of what we’re trying to do, just for everyone who thinks we’re trying to be sneaky, we’re trying to end abortion.” The group’s web page states:“The goal is very simple, END ABORTION NOW by protecting all innocent human life from the beginning of biological development.” The same page clearly counts fertilized eggs as “human beings.”

Unfortunately, one consequence of the measure’s language change will be to further confuse many voters about the intent and implications of the measure. While the advocates of the measure want to equate the moment of fertilization with the beginning of a human being, in the full sense of personhood with all the legal rights of a born infant, many voters will understandably think the measure means something else. If the measure were to pass and land in court, perhaps lawyers would drag in voters from 2010 to testify about the various interpretations given the measure.

Another variant of the group’s equivocation is its use of the phrase, “preborn baby,” invoked by Garcia-Jones in the group’s recent media release. Ordinarily a “baby” means a born infant. However, often a pregnant woman will refer to her fetus as a “baby” as well. But merely using the same word to refer to a fertilized egg, a fetus, and a born infant does not make them equivalent. Again the advocates of the “personhood” measure rely on word games, rather than arguments, to “prove” that a fertilized egg should be granted the full legal rights of a born infant.

I’ll have more to say about the claims of the “personhood” crusaders in a subsequent post. The critical point here is that the advocates of the “personhood” measure are motivated by sectarian faith, and they wish to impose their sectarian beliefs on the rest of us by political force. The non-sectarian arguments they offer are extremely weak, amounting to little more than word games intended to disguise the fundamentally sectarian nature of their cause. That cause should be rejected accordingly.

‘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

A Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person

Recently I discussed Mike Huckabee’s opposition to abortion. He really means it. A February 26 article from the Rocky Mountain News states:

A proposed ballot measure that would define personhood as a fertilized egg picked up the endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister.

In a statement Monday, Huckabee said the amendment proposed by 20-year-old Kristi Burton and her group, Colorado for Equal Rights, would send a clear message that every human life has value.

Here is the text of the proposal:

Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Colorado:

SECTION 1. Article II of the constitution of the state of Colorado is amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION to read:

Section 31. Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms “person” or “persons” shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.

And here is what those three sections state:

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.

Here I will briefly recapitulate the case against the proposal.

A fertilized egg is not a person. It is (in the right circumstances) a potential person, but a potential is not an actual person. A fertilized egg is human in the sense that it contains human DNA, but that is the case with every cell in our bodies. The distinction between a potential and actual person applies throughout gestation, but it is particularly obvious in the case of a fertilized egg. A fertilized egg soon becomes a clump of undifferentiated cells; certainly it cannot function or live independently.

A fertilized egg is not a person and therefore does not have rights. A woman has an absolute right to abort a fertilized egg and older embryo. (This is true even if the pregnancy resulted from irresponsible behavior.)

What would be some of the implications of treating a fertilized egg as a person?

The measure, if enforced (which is another matter), would outlaw all abortions, even in the case of rape, incest, severe damage to the embryo, and danger to the woman’s life. The measure would probably outlaw the use of all “morning after” medications. That means that women, and/or their doctors, and/or the producers and suppliers of items used for abortion, would be subject to criminal prosecution and punishment.

It so happens that a large percentage of pregnancies are naturally terminated by women’s bodies. It is also the case that sometimes a fertilized egg begins to grow outside of the uterus; this is called an ectopic pregnancy.

Treating a fertilized egg as a person, then, would require a criminal investigation into any terminated pregnancy in which the women was suspected of inducing her body’s rejection of the egg, embryo, or fetus. Serious enforcement of the measure would require the machinations of a police state. Treating a fertilized egg as a person would also require the woman to risk and often surrender her life in the case of dangerous pregnancies, including ectopic ones.

The measure is hideously immoral and ghastly in its implications.

Huckabee Compares Abortion to Slavery

Mike Huckabee recently visited Colorado to meet James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Huckabee also spoke at an event hosted by the Leadership Program of the Rockies. The Denver Post reported the news and reviewed some of Huckabee’s comments:

Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, said liberty requires “moral clarity” and that equality demands a human-life amendment to the Constitution. He said that even if the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973, it wouldn’t go far enough.

“What that means is that every one of the 50 states can come up with its own definition of life,” said Huckabee, equating abortion with slavery. “That’s the logic of the Civil War. That’s the idea that morality is geographical. It’s the notion that something can be right in one state and wrong in another. Well, when it came to slavery, we finally got it right that you can’t own another human being.”

So Huckabee was serious when he said he wants to “amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.”

I do agree with Huckabee about the illegitimacy of moral relativism. Yet Huckabee seeks to replace moral relativism with universally enforced religious dogma, which is even worse. There is simply no basis in reality for equating a fertilized egg with a person, as Huckabee is trying to do. Therefore, Huckabee’s suggestion that abortion is morally equal to slavery is absurd. Outlawing abortion in any state would be morally wrong.

Legislature Tries to Restrict Guns, Abortion

The following column originally appeared in Grand Junction’s Free Press.

February 18, 2008

Pick your poison: Dems and GOP both violate rights

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

A legislative committee heard two bills in two weeks. Both votes split along party lines. The first week, all the Democrats voted to violate our rights. The second week, all the Republicans did so.

Senator Sue Windels sponsored Bill 49 to impose criminal penalties on gun owners who do not store their guns the way that district attorneys deem proper after the fact. On Monday, February 4, the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee heard the bill. Windels joined with fellow Democrats Chris Romer and Abel Tapia to pass the bill to the next committee, over the objections of Republicans Bill Cadman and David Schultheis.

On February 11, the committee heard Schultheis’s Bill 95 (which Cadman cosponsored) to impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to observe a 24-hour waiting period for their clients seeking an abortion. Both Republicans voted for the bill, though the Democrats killed it.

While the bills cover quite different situations, they have much in common. Both bills would impose useless additions to Colorado’s already-massive books of statutes. Both would create arbitrary and onerous restrictions on activities that people have a right to pursue but that some ultimately want to ban altogether.

Let’s first look at the gun bill. As the Daily Sentinel pointed out earlier in the month, existing laws already cover cases of placing children in danger. The effect of Bill 49 would be to discourage citizens from keeping firearms for self-defense. When citizens are too afraid of prosecution to defend themselves, the advantage goes to the real criminals.

As Cadman said in a Republican press release, “We have a good balance right now between the need to keep kids from misusing guns and the right of homeowners to be able to defend their families. This bill would upset that balance by giving home intruders the upper hand and tying the hands of homeowners… This bill likely would have a chilling effect on gun ownership.”

Originally, Bill 49 stated that it applied if a gun owner “reasonably should know that a minor would be able to gain access to the firearm” without permission. And who gets to decide what’s “reasonable?” Prosecutors, some of whom are unfriendly toward defensive gun ownership. The committee dropped that language in favor of a line that says the bill applies in cases of “criminal negligence.” In other words, you commit “criminal negligence” if you commit “criminal negligence” — again as determined by prosecutors.

Another problem with the bill is that it says it doesn’t apply if a minor obtains the gun through burglary or robbery. So does the criminal prosecution of the gun owner hinge upon the criminal conviction of the minor? Who decides whether the minor should face charges? Apparently, again the prosecutor gets to make the call.

Of course, while many Colorado Democrats don’t express this motivation, many activists who favor storage laws, waiting periods, and other restrictions ultimately want to ban the use and ownership of guns, at least for defensive purposes.

What about the abortion bill? Bill 95 would have required a doctor to provide information about ultrasounds to all women seeking an abortion, then imposed a 24-hour waiting period. But women already know what abortion implies — the destruction of a potential but not actual person — and are already free to order ultrasounds.

As Jody Berger of Planned Parenthood pointed out to us, an ultrasound cannot even detect a pregnancy before five weeks. And Planned Parenthood already administers an ultrasound for every abortion in its clinics, which offer abortions from around five to eighteen weeks of pregnancy. (The clinics offer “morning after” medications up to 72 hours following intercourse.)

Berger said, “What would have been onerous is the 24-hour waiting period. In a lot of rural areas, a doctor is available only one day a week. And clients who drive three or four hours to come to the Planned Parenthood center in Denver have to make that drive twice. If they come with their husband or boyfriend, that means two people have to take two days off of work.”

So Schultheis, who is on record opposing waiting periods for purchases of firearms, is the sponsor of the bill to impose waiting periods for abortions.

Mike Saccone recorded the hypocrisy of Republicans and Democrats alike in his January 23 and February 11 stories for the Sentinel. Shultheis said his bill was “trying to whatever degree we can to reduce the number of abortions” — the exact attitude of the anti-gun lobby toward gun ownership. Of course, Schultheis really wants to ban abortion, just as many anti-gun activists ultimately want to ban defensive gun ownership.

And Romer said of the abortion bill, “It puts a burden on certain people” — the way that the gun bill that Romer voted for puts a burden on gun owners.

These Democrats and Republicans deserve each other. But Colorado deserves better.

Linn is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son Ari edits from the Denver area.