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Pro-lifers not satisfied with bill that makes forced miscarriage a crime 

Return of personhood

On July 5, 2012, Heather Surovik was eight months pregnant with her third child.

She was returning home after a doctor's check-up, her mother and young son in tow, when a drunk driver plowed into her vehicle. On a web video, she says she was "out" for 12 or 13 hours afterward. When she awoke in the hospital, so badly injured she couldn't speak, she was informed she had miscarried. The boy she had already named Brady was 8 pounds, 2 ounces.

"All I could do was sit there and cry," Surovik says on the video.

Surovik's grief intensified when she learned the driver would face penalties for the accident, but not for the miscarriage. A Colorado law addressing forced miscarriage applied only if the expectant mother also died during the criminal act.

For pro-life advocates, Surovik's case was a rallying cry for "personhood," the full legal recognition of unborn children as citizens — and, consequently, the outlawing of abortion, certain life-saving medical interventions, in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control. For pro-choice advocates, it presented a challenge: How to ensure that women whose pregnancies are terminated against their will get justice, while also protecting the rights of women who choose abortion.

As far as the pro-choice side is concerned, that issue has been solved, via a carefully worded bill signed into law June 5. But House Bill 1154, known as "Crimes Against Pregnant Women," didn't satisfy right-to-lifers, who claimed it was little more than pro-abortion legislation. With help from Surovik, they've since organized around the "Brady Amendment," aimed for the November 2014 election.

Eye of the beholder

HB 1154 created a series of felony and misdemeanor charges for forced miscarriage. It also upped the penalty if both a mother and her unborn child die, from a Class 4 to a Class 2 felony. A perpetrator can be charged with other crimes as well.

But Personhood USA spokesperson Jennifer Mason says her group was disappointed that the bill views crimes that kill a fetus as being offenses "against the woman," not "against the baby." It also feels that the penalties, wherein judges are given a range of jail time and/or fines for each felony class, are too low.

Most concerning: She believes the legislation opens Colorado to Kermit Gosnell-style "house of horrors" abortion clinics. Mason points to language in the bill that specifies it is not intended to target women seeking an abortion, or the medical personnel and clinics that provide it.

Rep. Mike Foote, the Boulder County deputy district attorney who co-sponsored the bill, says that's nonsense. While HB 1154 didn't get into quality control, other laws control for cleanliness and good practice at clinics. And doctors that kill live babies, as Philadelphia's Gosnell did, face murder charges.

In changing the state's criminal code to define an embryo as a person, the Brady Amendment would enable stiffer penalties, such as vehicular homicide in cases similar to Surovik's. It also could impact abortion, depending on its interpretation.

Mason says she doesn't believe it would, since abortion is not a crime. But the law makes no specific exceptions for abortion, either.

"We did not want to support anything that said abortion is OK, but killing a baby that's wanted is not OK," Mason says.

Foote was not prepared to discuss Brady's possible legal impacts. But he finds Mason's explanation misleading.

"Personhood USA is a single-issue entity — they want to see personhood," he says. "I find it hard to believe they'd be running any ballot measure that didn't eventually lead to personhood."

Two clinics close

It's been widely reported that in 2008 and 2010, opponents of personhood greatly outspent supporters.

And they won easily. In 2008, Amendment 48 failed 73.2 percent to 26.8 percent. In 2010, Amendment 62 failed 70.53 percent to 29.47 percent.

But the victories have come at a cost, particularly to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which is gearing up for another fight should Brady backers get enough signatures by early September to qualify for the ballot. PPRM spokesperson Monica McCafferty notes that her organization led the funding in both campaigns, which together cost about $3 million.

Though donations are up, McCafferty says the campaigns' costs have hurt. It's one of the reasons why PPRM is closing two centers (neither of which offers abortion) in September. One is in La Junta, the other in eastern Colorado Springs.

McCafferty says she believes personhood organizers have taken to the ballot repeatedly as "a tactic ... to just drain our resources."

Mason says that's untrue — her group has run Personhood in Colorado, she says, because Personhood USA is based in Colorado. Not that she's shedding any tears over the clinics: "It was an unintended consequence. And I can't say I'm disappointed."

stanley@csindy.com

  • Return of personhood

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