Defining ‘person’
Amendment 48 shakes up the Colorado ballot

SideStory: The local debate on 48: Panel set for Oct.14

by Jen Reeder

On Nov. 4, Coloradans will vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would define the term “person” to include any human being from the moment of fertilization. This is the first time a state will vote on whether a fertilized egg should have the same legal rights as a person.

The ballot initiative reads as follows: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution defining the term ‘person’ to include any human being from the moment of fertilization as ‘person’ is used in those provisions of the Colorado constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law?”

The case for 48:

Amendment 48 proponent Kristi Burton, of Denver, and 1,300 volunteers collected more than 130,000 valid signatures on a petition to add the initiative to the November ballot, well over the required 76,000.

“We’ve seen a groundswell of support,” Burton said. She said the Amendment 48 campaign started about two years ago as an effort to lay a “common sense foundation” when discussing or debating important life issues. “The word person has never been defined in Colorado’s Constitution as related to fundamental human rights,” she explained. “Without that definition, it’s difficult to protect every human being in Colorado.”

Burton said the amendment would recognize that life begins at fertilization, something that wasn’t known 35 years ago when Roe v. Wade was decided. “Now we know that at that moment of conception, a unique individual with DNA has been created,” Burton said. “Basically the whole point of Amendment 48 is now that we know what modern medical science teaches us, we should update our laws and include every human being in our definition of person.”

Burton said Amendment 48 would not only have implications for abortion rights but could also bring about new fetal homicide laws. For example, she pointed to a case last year where a woman who was 8½-months pregnant was hit by a car in Grand Junction. The baby, which was born, lived for a few hours after the accident but soon died. However, a judge ruled that legally, nothing could be done because the baby was injured in utero as a “non-person.”

“People all across Colorado are pretty upset about that,” Burton said. “If we could define every human being as a person, then we have the groundwork, a common sense foundation, to include that in our protection.”

The ultimate goal of Amendment 48 is to protect the sanctity of human life, Burton noted.

“Until you define a person and update our laws, there’s no way to effectively protect all people,” Burton said. “Basically, I think we can all agree that life has been cheapened in our society, and in order to restore that value and respect for all human life, we have to include them in our definition in our laws.” 4

The case against 48:

Opponents of Amendment 48 refer to the initiative’s authors as “extremists” wishing to rewrite the state constitution. “Amendment 48 affects important life decisions that should be made by individuals and their doctors and family,” said Crystal Clinkenbeard, spokeswoman for the No on 48 Campaign.

In addition, Clinkenbeard added that because Amendment 48 is only one sentence long and has broad language, it would create “a legal nightmare.”

“By creating a definition of person in the state constitution, Amendment 48 would impact literally thousands of Colorado laws,” she said, noting that the term “person” is used more than 20,000 times in Colorado statues. “When you grant a fertilized egg full legal rights, you create far-reaching consequences, she noted. These could include everything from banning emergency contraception for rape and incest victims, to banning birth control pills and IUDs, as they sometimes prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, Clinkenbeard said.

Other consequences could include: an outright ban on abortion; a ban on in-vitro fertilization since fertilized eggs are sometimes frozen; criminal investigations into miscarriages; legal issues for doctors when a woman has complications from a tubal pregnancy or other emergency situations when it is unknown that the woman is pregnant.

“What about the woman diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy?” Clinkenbeard asked. “By giving a fertilized egg the same constitutional rights that the woman has, the doctor might hesitate to treat her cancer because damaging the fertilized egg could be considered murder.”

Clinkenbeard said her organization has 76 state and national partners that oppose Amendment 48, including the Colorado Medical Society, the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians and the Colorado Gynecological-Obstetrical Society.

“Together those groups represent more than 7,000 doctors,” Clinkenbeard said. “It would throw the entire practice of medicine in Colorado into disarray.”

Clinkenbeard also warns against the ramifications of amending the state constitution, which can only be undone by an act of the state congress. “You’re really engaging in a very serious change to Colorado law,” she added. “It simply goes too far.” •



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