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Personhood’s Third Go-Round Heats Up State Capitol Steps

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DENVER (CBS4) - Supporters and opponents of one of Colorado’s most emotionally charged ballot measures battled over well-tread topics — abortion, women’s health, the rights of the unborn, contraception and more — during competing rallies on Tuesday on the state capitol steps.

Backers of Amendment 67, the so-called “Personhood Amendment,” are again attempting to convince Colorado voters that unborn children deserve to be treated with some of the same rights as people. Voters considered similar measures twice in the last three elections.

For Heather Surovik, who is largely the face of the campaign, the amendment is personal.

On July 5, 2012, a drunk driver struck Surovik’s car, severely injuring her and causing her to lose her unborn child, whom she named Brady. Surovik was eight months pregnant and Brady weighed 8 pounds, 2 ounces, she said. The driver, Gary Sheats, was not charged with vehicular homicide because under Colorado law fetuses are not considered babies until born.

Surovik said the “Brady Amendment,” as she calls it, secures justice for her son: “I’m here to make that sure babies like my son Brady get the justice he deserves and they all deserve. They are people. They need to be recognized as that.”

Heather Surovik and her son pose with a photo of her unborn son, Brady.

Heather Surovik and her son pose with a photo of her unborn son, Brady. (credit: CBS)

Specifically, the ballot measure seeks to make the words “person” and “child” in the state’s criminal code include fetuses.

It reads:

“Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution protecting pregnant women and unborn children by defining ‘person’ and ‘child’ in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings?”

Previous attempts were unsuccessful. In 2008, voters flattened the Colorado Definition of Person Initiative, also called Initiative 48, by a 73 percent to 27 percent margin. Two years later, the Colorado Fetal Personhood Initiative, or Initiative 62, lost in a similar fashion, 71 percent to 29 percent. The initiative wasn’t on the ballot in 2012.

Opponents maintain the Personhood Amendment is thinly disguised as an anti-abortion effort and could be interpreted to prohibit abortion, IVF treatments, IUDs, the morning-after pill and other forms of birth control — and, more severely, would legally jeopardize some women who suffer miscarriages.

“Amendment 67 would make pregnant women and health care providers criminally liable for any pregnancy that does not result in a live birth,” Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said at the rally.

Surovik and Personhood USA, an international organization that was instrumental in getting the amendment on the ballot, said that’s untrue.

When repeatedly asked whether Amendment 67 is just a step toward restricting abortion, Surovik was adamant.

“No,” she said. “This is about making sure my son and other babies are getting the justice they deserve.”

Nor is it an election issue for her.

“To me it’s not about politics,” she said. “To me it’s about protecting the unborn babies and women against acts of violence, like what happened to me.”

Keith Mason, the president of Personhood USA, said similar measures are law in 38 states.

While the amendment’s backers take the narrow view, its opponents said they fear larger reverberations — even those not honestly intended.

“We agree we need to protect women from violence,” said Vicki Cowart, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “This amendment would eliminate a woman’s ability to make personal, private decisions about her body and her health.”

Opponents of Amendment 67 rally on the state capitol steps on Tuesday. (credit: CBS)

Opponents of Amendment 67 rally on the state capitol steps on Tuesday. (credit: CBS)

The issue has political ramifications, of course.

Two Colorado Republicans running for national office this year changed their minds and disavowed the personhood measures. Rep. Cory Gardner, who is attempting to unseat Sen. Mark Udall this fall, said in March he now opposes personhood largely because it could deny women access to birth control.

But the Udall campaign said Tuesday that Gardner’s switch is more about political expediency than a philosophical change of heart.

“He was a strong supporter (of personhood). Flash-forward six years and he’s running for U.S. Senate, and he realized that a majority of people, particularly women, find that extreme and radical,” said Kristin Lynch, the press secretary for the Udall campaign.

In 2013, Gardner co-sponsored a House resolution called “Life at Conception Act” that would implement equal protection for “each born and preborn human person.”

His campaign didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

Soon after Gardner announced his opposition, Rep. Mike Coffman said he no longer supported the issue, either, after he’d backed it in 2008 and 2010. Coffman, who represents the state’s sixth congressional district, is seeking re-election.

- Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com

LINK: A Voice For Brady

LINK: No On 67

LINK: Ballot Pedia’s Amendment 67 Page

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