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At a legal conference, she met an Oak Brook alum named Mark Meuser who had experience with pro-life causes. Meuser helped Burton write the language that would become Amendment 48, this purposefully simple line: "As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms 'person' or 'persons' shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization."
After that, Burton established Colorado for Equal Rights and, with the help of her parents, set about getting her proposal — the first constitutional amendment of its kind in the country — on the ballot. "It was a long process," she says. "We had to call the secretary of state's office a lot of times, we had to go through a couple of boards before we could start collecting signatures, and the opposition took us to court to challenge the single subject."
But this summer, Amendment 48 cleared all hurdles, collecting a record-setting 130,000 signatures through a primarily volunteer effort and making it onto the November ballot. Burton's been stumping ever since.
"Right now I'm in the middle of a state tour, so today I had to get up at five," she says with a roll of her eyes. "I had to speak at a Republican club, do a few debates, meet with a reporter; I'm the spokesperson, so I do a bunch of these events — from meeting at people's homes to meeting in churches, at clubs or organizations. I guess right now it's really just a bunch of meetings."
Burton finds the constant stumping both fun and exhausting, but says she still finds time to relax. She likes to unwind by hanging out with friends and going to movies. She can't exactly remember the last movie she saw, but she's pretty sure it was "the Batman movie." On the road, she escapes into the music of Christian rockers Casting Crowns and Mark Schultz. And there's plenty to escape from.
"I've been really surprised by how extreme people are with their comments on blogs or in e-mails," says Burton, noting that one poster wished she had been aborted. "People disagree with me — I know that, that's fine. People are always going to disagree; that's why we need a discussion on the issue. But the names they've called me and my parents, and the bad things that they hope happen to us — it's just really shocking."
But there are highs along with the lows. When she's at the office, manning the phones, callers are shocked to learn that they're actually talking to the Kristi Burton. They can't believe she's so hands-on that she actually answers the phones. She gets a kick out of that. "I'm the same normal person I was two years before this started," she says with a laugh. "I guess I'm realizing that some people don't think I'm a normal person. But I am."
If it's normal for a 21-year-old to almost single-handedly get a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the ballot, a measure that has the power to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of women, that is.
"I don't think it's a matter of me telling women how to live their lives, because, honestly, I can't," she responds. "That's why it's on the ballot. That's why every voter in Colorado gets to decide. I'm simply putting a question before the voters of Colorado and, you know, defining things. Our one-sentence amendment is based in modern medical science, and it addresses an outdated belief. When the current constitution was written, the biological information we now have available didn't exist, and so all I'm saying is, knowing what we know now, maybe we should take another look."
Burton is quick to say that 35 years ago, at the time of Roe v. Wade, science and medicine couldn't prove that life begins at fertilization — but now they can. This is one of her set pieces, and she trumpets the strength of this science as an inarguable truth demanding the redefinition of when life begins. But she's not so high on other forms of science.
"I don't feel like there is enough scientific evidence to prove evolution," says the Oak Brook student. (The online school's mission statement requires that students reject evolution.) "And I think there is a lot of science on the other end that proves creation. I don't get into that issue hugely, though. I'm not super-interested in that issue, and I don't see it as related to the amendment itself."
And that's as much as Burton wants to say about believing in a Flintstonian world where dinosaurs and man once co-existed. The question she's asked most frequently: What, exactly, would her amendment do? For this, her answer is as well-rehearsed as any high-school debate speech.
"Our goal is to lay a common-sense foundation, a concrete definition of what it is to be a person for dealing with those issues later on," she says. "Sure, birth control and abortion will have to be dealt with, but how can we deal with them without a definition? We can't effectively. That really is our position."
Whenever you pull her string.