Amendment 67: ‘Personhood’ Returns to the Ballot

October 21, 2014

One of this November’s statewide ballot questions may look familiar to Coloradans. For the third time since 2008, voters will decide the fate of an amendment dealing with the issue of personhood. But this time around supporters are taking a different approach. 

Amendment 67 would change the state’s criminal code and wrongful death act to include the term “unborn human beings” when referring to a “person” or “child.” Backers say it stems from the 2012 case of Heather Surovik, who shares her testimonial on the Personhood USA website…

"I remember going to my last prenatal appointment with Brady. We got to see everything on the ultrasound. My son Jessie kept asking, where’s his feet, where’s his hands? He made the connection that Brady was a person just like he was; and that he was going to be a brother," said Surovik.

She was more than 8 months pregnant. On the drive home she was hit by a drunk driver.  Her unborn son didn’t survive.

“The man who was responsible for taking Brady, for the death of Brady is not being charged with it because the law says Brady was not a person,” said Surovik.  “For them to sit there and say that Brady was not a person is just ridiculous.”

State lawmakers have since passed the crimes against pregnant women act. It allows prosecutors to pursue additional assault charges in cases such as Surovik’s but not homicide charges.

“ They went out of their way in that law to say babies like Brady aren’t people,” said Personhood Colorado spokeswoman Jennifer Mason. “It doesn’t recognize that there are two victims in an accident like this. It’s not just the woman who loses her child but the baby is a victim too and there should be justice.”

Colorado was the first state in the country to vote on and defeat a personhood measure in 2008. Voters also overwhelming struck down another attempt in 2010. Those questions would have defined the term “person” from the beginning of biological development or fertilization. 

“They’re being willfully deceptive,” said Rubin Alvero, an OBGYN in Colorado. Though written differently to focus on the criminal code Alvero believes Amendment 67 would have the same impact because it would define a fertilized egg as a person.

“There are literally hundreds of thousands of frozen eggs in the United States so that’s a huge number that would acquire legal status. I try to get patients pregnant. How I do that is either by fertilizing eggs and transplanting them or freezing embryos, that would be dangerous to do.

With so much of this year’s election focusing on women’s issues – and the fact that the issue isn’t new to Colorado voters –campaign opponents worry about voter fatigue. 

“I would hope that the voters are hearing that reproductive healthcare is really a personal private decision that women make with their own families in accordance with their faith and doctors,” said Fofi Mendez, a spokeswoman for the No on 67 campaign. “It just goes too far and defines an undefined term.”

Opponents, including the medical community also say the amendment could criminalize miscarriages, and make it difficult for doctors to treat patients with ectopic pregnancies or other life threatening issues. It’s a claim supporters call a scare tactic.

“There is no way this amendment could be used to investigate women for miscarriages,” said Mason. “There is no way it could impact contraception, there is no way it could impact in vitro fertilization. It only recognizes that every human being is a person whether they are in the womb or out of it.”

The Yes On Amendment 67 campaign has taken a more low key approach this election season, but one observer thinks voters’ opinions are largely solidified.

“Most people have thought these through and they have pretty well defined issue stances, the language of the amendment isn’t going to matter that much,” said Colorado State University political science professor Kyle Saunders. “ It’s really if we see any difference on this issue it will be the difference between presidential and mid-term elections.”

Regardless of turnout the issue of personhood and contraception for women have played a central role in several Colorado races – including the U.S. senate and gubernatorial campaigns.