In Colorado, Voters Will Decide Whether Human Embryos Are People Under State's Constitution

A controversial amendment would define "person" as "any human being from the moment of fertilization"

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In the battleground state of Colorado on November 4, along with casting a vote for Barack Obama or John McCain, voters will be considering whether or not to make Colorado the first state to give constitutional rights to human embryos.

The proposed Amendment 48 would change Colorado's Constitution to define the term "person" as "any human being from the moment of fertilization." That means fertilized eggs and fetuses would have all the rights of individuals under Colorado law, down to the right to due process.

Supporters say it protects the value of life and clarifies "personhood" in light of scientific findings on how humans develop in the womb. They also argue that it won't automatically overturn access to contraception, abortion, or medical research involving embryos, since courts still will have to interpret laws on a case-by-case basis.

But opponents say the amendment could have wide-ranging consequences. The amendment could allow abortion, and even contraception, to be interpreted as murder, without exception for victims of rape or incest. In vitro fertilization could be banned, since the eggs used in the process would be protected; so could stem cell research. Meanwhile, more than 20,000 references to "persons" exist in state statutes, regulations, and city ordinances, meaning that the ban could have unintended effects, one reason the Colorado Bar Association has opposed it.

"It is a blatant attempt to interfere into personal, private, family health decisions," says Fofi Mendez, campaign manager for Vote NO on 48.

The views of Mendez and other opponents of the ban, including self-described "pro-life" Gov. Bill Ritter, seem to have struck a chord with Coloradans. Even though supporters originally gathered more than 130,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, support seems to have tumbled. A recent Rocky Mountain News/CBS4 News poll showed that more than two thirds of Colorado voters oppose the bill, compared with 27 percent in favor. That's despite another poll showing that 44 percent of voters in the state say life begins at conception.

Even if the measure fails, though, some say it points to a rising politicization of contraception. Mississippi, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon, and Montana have attempted to get similar measures passed, Mendez says.

Contraception also has become an issue in nine races in this election, according to Cristina Page of the advocacy site BirthControlWatch.org, including congressional campaigns in New Jersey, Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington, Virginia, and Colorado as well as a gubernatorial race in Washington.

"This is a trend we're going to see—birth control becoming a campaign issue—grow," says Page.