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Amendment 62 Personhood challenge shot down in Denver District Court

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Proponents of Amendment 62 hit a roadblock yesterday in their drive to get Colorado voters to approve Amendment 62, an updated version of the anti-abortion measure that voters soundly defeated in 2008. A suit brought by amendment sponsors Gualberto Garcia Jones and Leslie Hanks had claimed that the Blue Book provided by the Colorado Legislative Council, intended as a non-partisan guide for voters, unfairly portrayed the measure and was misleading on critical points.

But Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction over the book's content, which was approved by a committee of legislators. Besides, he added, it was too late to recall something that had already been mailed out to voters.

Mike Mauer, director of research for the Colorado Legislative Council, wasn't worried about the suit. "We believe we've written a fair and non-partisan resource for voters," he says.

According to Mauer, the process for constructing the Blue Book is transparent, and takes input from both sides. "We start at the beginning of the summer, we put together three drafts, and we send them to anyone who signs-up as an interested party on our website," he says. "Anyone can look at the documents online and send us comments for consideration. The final draft is sent to a legislative committee on September 1, and people can testify in front of the committee at that point as well."

But Personhood USA spokeswoman Jennifer Mason claims that when her group attended that September 1 committee meeting, their arguments were dismissed out of hand. "The legislative council did not take into account even one of our recommendations," she says. "The council wouldn't even allow us to use the term 'human being,' and that's what the amendment is all about."

At the heart of the suit was a claim by amendment sponsors that the 'Arguments For' section of the Blue Book actually contained an argument against the measure, and that a number of other statements were inherently biased. "The Blue Book was full of misinformation and we feel that Colorado voters should know the truth," Mason says. "We're upset that taxpayers had to pay for this garbage that was mailed out to voters."

Mason says that amendment sponsors will be consulting with their attorneys about the possibility of an appeal. While the damage has been done with the mailing of the current Blue Books, she adds, she hopes the state will either mail a correction or post a correction on the Colorado Legislative Council website.

Mason also has a problem with the way the arguments against the proposition were presented. "Those are scare tactics, not facts," she says. "Planned Parenthood was behind that, and as a billion-dollar abortion profiteer, of course, they're looking to protect their business."

Monica McCafferty, director of communications for Planned Parenthood, says her group was not surprised by the ruling. "This was between the council and the amendment sponsors, and we feel both sides have been represented and both sides had equal opportunity to weigh in," she explains. "We're just focusing on the campaign -- and Amendment 62 is bad law, bad medicine, and bad for women and their families."

Regardless of any appeal, amendment supporters face an uphill battle. In 2008, Amendment 48 -- the personhood measure that differed from this year's amendment in semantics alone -- was defeated 73 percent to 27 percent. And this week, Salon.com named Colorado's personhood amendment as one of the top five most alarming right-wing ballot initiatives in the country.

An online version of the Blue Book can be found on the Colorado Legislative Council website. The disputed arguments for and against are below:

Arguments For:

1) Amendment 62 ensures that all human life is afforded equal protection under the law. Currently, this right is not recognized until birth. Amendment 62 acknowledges that a new human life is created at the beginning of biological development and gives all human life, whether born or unborn, equal rights and protections.

2) The measure may establish the legal foundation to end the practice of abortion in Colorado. The U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States found that the unborn were not included in the word "person" as used in the U.S. Constitution. If each human life, from the beginning of biological development, is recognized as a person under Colorado's bill of rights, Amendment 62 may provide support for legal challenges to prohibit abortions in Colorado.

3) Amendment 62 establishes a legal definition of the term "person" as used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of the Colorado bill of rights. Because these sections do not currently contain a definition of the term "person," interpretation of the word is subjective, which may lead to the rights granted by sections 3, 6, and 25 of the Colorado bill of rights being inconsistently applied.

Arguments Against:

1) Amendment 62 may limit the ability of individuals and families to make important health care decisions. The measure could be used to prohibit or limit access to medical care, including abortions for victims of rape or incest, and even when a woman's life is in danger. Amendment 62 may also limit access to emergency contraception, commonly used forms of birth control, and treatment for miscarriages, tubal pregnancies, cancer, and infertility. The measure may restrict some stem cell research that could lead to life-saving therapies for a variety of disabilities and illnesses.

2) Amendment 62 allows government intrusion in the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship and could limit the exercise of independent medical judgment. The measure could restrict a doctor from using certain medical procedures and treatments. Further, "the beginning of biological development" cannot be easily and conclusively pinpointed. Therefore, the measure may subject doctors and nurses to legal action for providing medical care to a woman of child-bearing age if that care could affect a "person" other than the identified patient.

3) The effects of Amendment 62's change to the constitution are unclear. The measure applies certain rights from "the beginning of biological development," a term which is not defined within the measure, has no established legal meaning, and is not an accepted medical or scientific term. The legislature and the courts will have to decide how a wide variety of laws, including property rights and criminal laws, will apply from "the beginning of biological development."

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