Colorado Definition of Person, Initiative 48 (2008)

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The Colorado Definition of Person Initiative, also known as Initiative 48, was on the November 2008 ballot in Colorado as an initiated constitutional amendment, where it was defeated. The measure would have defined "person" to include any human being from the moment of fertilization. The measure would extend this definition to the use of "person" in the Colorado Constitution provisions relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law.[1]

The committee supporting the measure, Colorado for Equal Rights, announced in July 2007 their intention to "define exactly what a person is under the laws of Colorado." On May 29, 2008, the Colorado Secretary of State announced that a review of submitted signatures by the initiative's supporters indicated that 103,000 were valid, whereas 76,000 were required.[2][3]


In the wake of the defeat of Initiative 48, a new organization (Personhood USA) formed and sponsored a similar, but not identical, proposed amendment, the Colorado Fetal Personhood Amendment (2010). The group qualified the amendment for the 2010 ballot in Colorado and hoped to qualify it elsewhere.[4]

Election results

Colorado Initiative 48 (2008)
Defeatedd No1,691,23773.21%
Yes 618,779 26.79%

Election results via: The Colorado Secretary of State

Text of measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[1]

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution defining the term “person” to include any human being from the moment of fertilization as “person” is used in those provisions of the Colorado constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law?[5]


The organization officially supporting the measure was Colorado for Equal Rights, co-founded by Mark Meuser and Kristine Burton. The supporters of the measure believed that if it had passed, it would have the effect of making abortion illegal in Colorado.

Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee endorsed the measure on February 25, 2008.[6]

Meuser said, "If the state or the federal government ever defined when life began, then the rights of the unborn would be superior to the woman's right to have an abortion. If personhood was ever defined, then the case for Roe would collapse."

The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm, indicated that it was willing to provide legal assistance in any litigation surrounding this ballot measure.

The Christian evangelical organization Focus on the Family announced that it would support the measure if it succeeded in collecting enough signatures to be certified for the ballot. The measure did collect enough signatures to be certified for the ballot.

Michael Hichborn, a spokesman for the American Life League, endorsed the measure and urged other conservatives to not stay on the sidelines:

"Now, amazingly there are those that claim that now is not the right time for a personhood amendment. The old saying attributed to Edmund Burke 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing' is well applied to those standing on the sidelines because they decided to do just what Burke warned against. They're simply doing nothing. And while they sit on their hands waiting -- organizations like NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW are working to ensure another 35 years of killing babies."[7]

Steve Curtis, president of American Right to Life's action committee, accused Republican Senate candidate Bob Schaffer on April 22, 2008, of lying about not having an opinion on the initiative when Shaffer declined to take a position on the measure. But a day later, Curtis backed off the charge.[8]

"We're just calling on all pro-lifers to support this initiative today," he said. "We need support to get this on the ballot so that we can have the discussion, we can have the debate, about abortion and about life."[8]

Dick Wadhams, Schaffer's campaign manager, clarified that it is not that Schaffer is not taking a stance, but only that he had not taken a stance yet.[8]

The issue arose again on June 16, 2008, when Colorado Right to Life was not allowed to set up a display table at the state Republican convention. The group blamed party chairman Dick Wadhams, saying he was trying to drag the party "to the left." Colorado Right to Life President Joe Riccobono warned Republicans that by shunning their conservative base, they could be headed for "another election catastrophe in November."[9]

"Wadhams has moved U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer to the liberal middle and he's trying to drag the Colorado GOP to the left," the group said in a news release. Wadhams was Schaffer's campaign manager.[9]

Wadhams called the organization a "very small fringe group" and said that "any organization that publicly attacks the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate is not going to be allowed to buy table space (at the convention)," presumably a response to the group's earlier suggestion that Schaffer was sidestepping taking a position on the personhood initiative.[9]

The Rocky Mountain District Council of the Assemblies of God passed with unanimous consent a resolution endorsing the measure on May 2, 2008. The Rocky Mountain District of the Assemblies of God had 119 churches in Colorado in 2008.[10]

Colorado for Equal Rights announced July 28, 2008, the support of more than 70 physicians and pharmacists, including neonatologists, family physicians, ob/gyns, pediatricians, and other physicians nationwide. A list of these physicians was made available at[11]

"We are honored to have received these endorsements from such respected physicians," stated Kristi Burton, amendment sponsor. "Science clearly proves that life begins at the time of fertilization. We are secure in the fact that we have science and reason on our side, and we are pleased to have the medical community supporting our efforts."[11]

Focus on the Family endorsed the Personhood Amendment. In a statement issued Aug. 5, 2008, Carrie Gordon Earll, senior bioethics analyst at Focus on the Family Action, said:

"A founding principle of Focus on the Family—and a driving belief of Dr. Dobson's—is that all human life is sacred and that life begins at the single-cell stage of human development. Amendment 48 articulates this belief and challenges us to declare the inestimable worth of all members of the human family. The foundational message of Amendment 48 is clear: All human life has value. Colorado voters should support Amendment 48, and vote for it in November."[12]

Overcoming legal challenges

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled 7-0 on Nov. 13, 2007, that the ballot measure did not violate Colorado's single-subject rule and could proceed to the signature-collection phase.[13] This was the last stage in a determined legal effort to keep the ballot measure from proceeding forward.

The Title Board approved the language of the amendment, set the ballot title, and ruled that the amendment does not violate the single-subject rule on July 18, 2007.

The Title Board was asked by opponents of CERA for a re-hearing, which was held on August 1, 2007. Kara Veitch, attorney for groups opposing the amendment, again argued that CERA violated the single-subject rule. The Title Board voted 3-0 to affirm its previous decision.[14] Opponents appealed this decision, unsuccessfully, to the Colorado Supreme Court.

See also:


Because the amendment sought to define a fertilized egg as a person, even before being implanted in the uterus (a common definition for the beginning of a pregnancy), opponents suggest that the amendment may have outlawed certain methods of birth control that focus on interfering with the egg's implantation.[15]

Leslie Durgin, who served as Boulder's mayor from 1989 to 1997, was leading a coalition of former lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to oppose the measure. Durgin was leading the Protect Families Protect Choices campaign. She was also senior vice president for community development at Planned Parenthood for the Rocky Mountains.[16]

"We want to let people know that the language is very deceptive and is dangerous to women's health in this state," Durgin said. "This is something that shouldn't be in our state constitution."[16]

Planned Parenthood had called the proposed initiative "extreme."[17]

"The moment of fertilization is not a medical definition and is almost impossible to determine outside of a petri dish. So defining a person that way interferes with a lot of things including the practice of medicine," said Dr. Mary Fairbanks, a family practitioner. "Medical providers who treat women of reproductive age would be at heightened risk of lawsuits if the care they provide could potentially affect a woman's fertilized egg."[18]

Cathryn Hazouri, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said, "They are using this so-called legal strategy in order to invalidate a woman's right to privacy and a woman's right to choose."

Toni Panetta, spokeswoman for the Protect Families Protect Choice campaign, said her group was pleased to have former Grand Junction state Rep. Gayle Berry and state Sen. Betty Boyd (D-Lakewood) working to defeat the proposal.[19]

The Aspen Times called the Amendment a "recipe for disaster" in a Sept. 5, 2008, editorial.[20]

Financial backing

Colorado for Equal Rights raised $41,337 during August, with three contributors of $10,000 each.[21]

Protect Families, Protect Choice Coalition, raised $388,874 in August, to oppose the measure, most of it from Planned Parenthood of the Rockies.[22] The Planned Parenthood of the Rockies Issues Committee raised $59,000 to oppose the measure. Planned Parenthood Federation in New York contributed $40,500 of that total.[21]

Protect Families, Protect Choice Coalition, raised $92,500 more in the first two weeks of September. Nearly all of that came from the ACLU of Colorado.[23]


See also Polls, 2008 ballot measures.
Month of Poll Pollster In Favor Opposed Undecided
October Rocky/CBS4 27 percent 68 percent 5 percent[24]

Similar efforts

This measure was the first time that voters of a state had been able to vote on such an initiative.[25] Legislators in Georgia were possibly set to vote to legislatively refer a similar measure to the 2008 Georgia ballot. Supporters of this concept in Mississippi and Michigan were also organizing petition drives at the time of Amendment 48. Montana conservatives in that state's legislature narrowly failed to place it on the 2008 ballot as a legislative referral. The Oregon Attorney General struck down the wording of a similar initiative.

Path to the ballot

Supporters submitted more than 131,000 signatures on May 13, 2008, well over the 76,047 valid signatures required to make the November 2008 ballot.[26] On May 29, 2008, the Colorado Secretary of State announced that a review of submitted signatures by the initiative's supporters indicated that 103,000 were valid, whereas 76,000 were required.[27]

See also

External links

Suggest a link

Additional reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 Colorado State Legislative Council, "Ballot History," accessed February 26, 2014
  2. Associated Press, "Anti-abortion measure OK'd for Colo. ballot," May 29, 2008
  3. Stateline, "Social issues crowd state ballots," July 24, 2008
  4. Colorado Statesman, "Personhood amendment revised and revived," July 3, 2009
  5. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  6. Fox News 21, Huckabee endorses CO measure, rights to fertilized eggs, February 25, 2008
  7. RH Reality Check blog, "Egg-as-Person Backers Call Out Conservative Wimps," April 17, 2008
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Denver Post: "Initiative proponent backs off Schaffer charge," April 23, 2008
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Rocky Mountain News: "Anti-abortion group rips state GOP chairman," June 17, 2008
  10. Standard Newswire, "Assembly of God Churches Adopts Resolution for Personhood Amendment," May 2, 2008
  11. 11.0 11.1 Christian News Wire: "Colorado's Personhood Effort Garners Endorsements of Over 70 Physicians," July 28, 2008
  12. "Colorado For Equal Rights Applauds Focus on the Family's Support of Personhood Amendment 48," Aug. 7, 2008 (dead link)
  13. Anti-abortion group can seek signatures
  14. Board approves abortion curb's title
  15. Denver Post, "Fertile ground for a legal mess," June 2, 2008
  16. 16.0 16.1, "Ex-mayor battles personhood measure," May 7, 2008
  17. Opponents
  18. Denver Channel 7 News, "Opponents Hot As Personhood Initiative Gains Steam," May 6, 2008
  19. Grand Junction Sentinel, "Berry to oppose personhood initiative." May 1, 2008
  20. Aspen Times, "Editorial- Amendment 48: Recipe for disaster," September 5, 2008
  21. 21.0 21.1 Rocky Mountain News, "Union's Aug. ballot fight fund: $160,000," September 3, 2008
  22. Rocky Mountain News, "Money pours into measures on Colorado ballot," September 4, 2008
  23. Rocky Mountain News, "Local union gives $3 million to fight right-to-work measure," September 15, 2008
  24. Rocky Mountain News, "Do Coloradans think an embryo is a person? Polls say 'No'," October 28, 2008
  25. Anti-abortion plan gets crucial OK by court (dead link)
  26., "Colo. personhood measure backers submit 130,000 signatures," May 13, 2008 (dead link)
  27. Associated Press, "Anti-abortion measure OK'd for Colo. ballot," May 29, 2008