'Personhood' Amendment On Colorado Ballot Amendment 48 would define "personhood" as beginning at the moment of conception, giving fertilized eggs constitutional rights. But the measure raises a range of questions, such as, would embryos be counted in the state census or as extra passengers in the HOV lane?
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'Personhood' Amendment On Colorado Ballot

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'Personhood' Amendment On Colorado Ballot

'Personhood' Amendment On Colorado Ballot

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, some of those hot button issues are showing up around the country in the form of ballot measures. In several states, you can vote this year on measures that could significantly impact abortion law. Amendment 48 in Colorado would define personhood as beginning at the moment of conception. That means it would give fertilized human eggs the same constitutional rights as you or me. It's the first ballot measure of its kind, and a 21-year-old woman is leading the push for its passage. From Rocky Mountain Community Radio, Bente Birkeland has our story.

BENTE BIRKELAND: It's an unusually warm fall Sunday for October, and Kristi Burton and her mom have driven about three hours from their home near Colorado Springs so Kristi can speak at an evangelical Christian church in northern Colorado. She's set up a table displaying pictures of babies, and she has bumper stickers and promotional DVDs to support her initiative.

Ms. KRISTI BURTON (Co-Founder, Colorado for Equal Rights): And basically, we're then directing our courts and our legislature to say, now that an unborn child is defined as a person, you need to look at that in making your laws. If you'd like to get involved, we have lots of things to do. We'd love for you to pick up any of our material. And please pray for us. I really do believe that in the end God is the one who fights the battle.

BIRKELAND: Similar measures have been proposed in Mississippi, Montana, and Georgia, but Colorado is the only state to get enough signatures to put the personhood amendment on the ballot. It's the latest tactic by the pro-life movement to set the legal groundwork to overturn the controversial Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973. Burton has been working on the concept for the last two years. She's studying at an online Christian law school and says an attorney friend of hers wrote the amendment.

Ms. BURTON: I do believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned. I mean, even a lot of people on the pro-choice side say that it was a bad decision made on bad law. And that's why we're trying to define a person. And that's why Roe v. Wade should be relooked at to at least present new information.

BIRKELAND: However, Amendment 48, as it stands, goes far beyond the issue of abortion and raises a host of questions regarding which constitutional rights a fertilized egg can logically be entitled to. Jessica Berg is a professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University. She says the amendment could lead to some bizarre situations. For instance, counting fertilized eggs in the state census and pregnant drivers using the HOV lanes.

Professor JESSICA BERG (Professor of Law and Bioethics, Case Western Reserve University): It's going to mean that any and all of the fertilized eggs used in fertility, which are hundreds of thousands, will also be persons. You could never get rid of them. It's not clear whether you could freeze them because we certainly don't have any concept of freezing, indefinitely, a person.

BIRKELAND: The controversial amendment has divided the pro-life community. The Colorado Catholic Conference worries that the courts would strike it down and end up reaffirming current abortion laws, and Colorado's Democratic pro-life governor, Bill Ritter, says the state could rack up huge legal bills defending it.

Governor BILL RITTER, JR. (Democrat, Colorado): It is outside the bounds of present law, present constitutional law. It's just an extreme position by a really narrow interest group, narrowly crafted, and it's the wrong response.

BIRKELAND: The latest polls have the personhood amendment trailing by about 15 percentage points, with 16 percent of the electorate undecided. Should the amendment pass, both sides expect it would spend years being litigated in the courts. And proponents hope it would be challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to force a review of Roe v. Wade. For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver.

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