Personhood USA announces launch of local abortion ban initiative 

click to enlarge In January, the Springs clinic was still closed. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • In January, the Springs clinic was still closed.

Last week, nearly three months after Robert Dear attacked Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains' Colorado Springs clinic, PPRM's president and CEO, Vicki Cowart, stood outside the building with bullet marks etched into its exterior and a visible security presence. Though repairs are still being made, she announced the clinic would begin offering its full range of services once again.

"We can't not be aware of the danger and of the challenge of what happened in this place," she told reporters. "We are opening today with our eyes to the future."

A few weeks prior, news that PPRM would soon re-open set Personhood USA, a national anti-abortion group, into action. "It's happening. We knew it would," begins an emailed fundraising pitch from Jennifer Mason, the group's spokeswoman. "I can't bear the thought that a place that has killed countless of innocent children will re-open to kill countless more." The email goes on to announce a "city-by-city campaign to make abortion illegal, starting in Colorado Springs."

Indeed, the group has begun encouraging prayer and collecting signatures for an initiative to ban abortion within city limits.

"It makes sense to start [in the Springs], considering the number of churches and number of volunteers we've got there," Mason tells the Independent. "When we've run statewide initiatives in the past, it's always our biggest base of support."

Though city and county voters don't always agree, El Paso County voters have supported so-called "personhood" measures in greater percentages than voters statewide, though they've remained in the minority.

In 2008, the first time statewide voters were asked if the Colorado constitution should define a "person" to include "any human being from the moment of fertilization," the answer came back as a resounding no. Voters defeated Initiative 48 73.2 to 26.8 percent, with 37.6 percent of El Paso county voters in favor.

Two years later, Personhood USA pushed a similar measure that defined personhood beginning at the "moment of fertilization." The 2010 ballot question would have extended rights to "every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being" so as to exclude human cloning.

Though defeated, the margin that year inched slightly closer with 29.5 percent of state voters in favor and 70.5 percent opposed. El Paso County's support also inched up to 40.7 percent.

Personhood USA failed to gather enough signatures to put another anti-abortion question on the statewide ballot in 2012, but it succeeded in 2014. The so-called Brady Amendment sought to "[protect] pregnant women and unborn children" by re-defining "person" and "child" in Colorado statute to include "unborn human beings."

Again, the initiative failed but gained support, with 64.9 percent of voters rejecting the measure and 35.1 percent supporting it. This time, nearly half — 49.2 percent — of El Paso County voters were in favor.

Mason acknowledges that wounds from the November shooting are still fresh. But she insists the latest initiative isn't about pouring salt on the wound.

"It's a better time than ever considering the shooting was so tragic and now [Planned Parenthood is] compounding that by continuing to kill people there," she says. "I think that really most people are tired of the violence — both from alleged crazy people and violence that's perpetrated by the abortion providers who brutally murder babies."

Karen Middleton of NARAL Pro-choice Colorado is disappointed by the timing of the initiative.

"From my vantage point, there is a sense of compassion and coming together in an effort to heal from recent violence," she says. "I am not sure this fringe group could be more out of touch with our community than they are now."

Mason says the exact language of the municipal ordinance has yet to be worked out, but she's confident it'll make it onto the ballot, citing a formidable network of volunteers "ready to hit the ground running."

Colorado Springs City Clerk Sara Johnson says the group will first need to gather 19,532 verifiable signatures via petition (20 percent of total votes cast in the last municipal election).

"We usually recommend people get double what they need," Johnson says.

Additionally, the city hasn't budgeted for a special election in November, so the next opportunity to run a municipal ballot measure would be April 2017. (General elections are run by El Paso County.)

Down the road, Mason hopes if the local initiative is successful, others like it will be launched in other cities. "A lot of people around the country are wanting to do something similar," she says. "So we're going to test the waters, then we'll see where to go from there."

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