Dozens of protesters waved “No 67” signs as impassioned speakers from Planned Parenthood Votes and NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado denounced Amendment 67, this year’s personhood measure, as a threat to “a woman’s ability to make her own reproductive health care decisions.”
“Amendment 67 truly is an attack on family planning, an attack on a woman’s access to health care, an attack on the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship, and an attack on basic rights of women in Colorado,” said Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
What speakers didn’t mention is that personhood is a hardy ballot perennial that has never come close to passage. Colorado voters have rejected personhood measures twice, most recently in 2010, when Initiative 62 lost by a margin of 70 to 30 percent.
As it turns out, however, the rally may have had less to do with Amendment 67 than with defeating Republicans in November, specifically Rep. Cory Gardner, who’s challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
There was a cardboard cut-out of Gardner at the rally, as well as cracks about Gardner’s previous endorsement of the personhood concept. Gardner has withdrawn his earlier support for personhood, saying he’s since learned it could be interpreted as anti-birth control.
“They’re attacking me for changing my mind on personhood after I learned more and listened to more of you,” said Gardner in a video released last month. “No wonder Sen. Udall and President Obama can’t relate to that.”
Gardner has also come out in favor of making birth-control pills more accessible by allowing women to buy themover the counter, instead of requiring a doctor’s prescription.
Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli described the personhood debate as a “straw man” that’s been resurrected because it worked so well in the past as a campaign issue for Colorado Democrats.
“They want personhood as a faux issue to use against Cory Gardner,” said Ciruli. “That’s essentially why, and to tee it up so that Democrats can use it against him and anyone else who’s endorsed it at any time in their career. It’s a straw man, or a straw issue—you’re setting it up so you can knock it down.”
Already this year’s personhood battle looks like another lopsided affair. The No on 67 campaign has raised $124,870, which is $124,870 more than Colorado Personhood. Campaign-finance reports show Colorado Personhood recorded zero contributions and zero donations in 2013 and 2014.
That lack of funding may explain in part the movement’s lack of success. Voters rejected the 2008 personhood initiative by 73 to 27 percent. In 2012, a third effort to place personhood on the ballot fizzled after supporters failed to collect enough signatures.
The latest effort does have a sympathetic spokeswoman in Heather Surovik, who was eight months pregnant when her car was hit by a drunk driver in 2012. She lost the baby, and personhood supporters are calling the measure the “Brady amendment,” named after the unborn child.
The driver wasn’t charged with vehicular homicide because Brady wasn’t recognized as a separate person. Amendment 67 would define the unborn as “persons” in the Colorado criminal code and wrongful death act, but opponents say it could also result in the outlawing of abortion or certain forms of birth control such as the IUD.
A Quinnipiac University Poll released last week showed that only two percent of Colorado voters view “women’s issues” as their top priority in 2014, while just one percent say abortion.
That leads Ciruli to conclude that the real issue for voters isn’t so much personhood, but whether a candidate appears to be reasonable. Democrats have painted GOP candidates who support personhood as being anti-birth control.
“I have argued that really what the battle here is about is seeming reasonable, and if that is correct, then Cory Gardner has made a defense,” said Ciruli. “Whether or not it sells, who knows, but he has made a defense, and that is he has said, ‘On personhood, I’m reasonable, I took a look at it, I just don’t think it’s the right way to go, and by the way on contraception, I think the way to go is over the counter.’”
“Is it sufficient to inoculate him from this attack?” Ciruli said. “They [Democrats] certainly don’t think so.”