Sweet and low 

Activists sugar-coat conservative agendas by talking about 'human' and 'civil' rights

Convincing voters to get behind a controversial ballot initiative is, in many ways, like performing a magic trick.

Misdirection is everything.

Take two groups that are now collecting signatures to put measures on the 2008 statewide ballot.

Colorado for Equal Rights wants voters to be asked if the term "person," as used in certain sections of the state's constitution, should be defined as "any human being from the moment of fertilization."

Though abortion is not mentioned, the proposal has conservative commentators getting all hot and bothered, hoping that passage of a measure could lead to a Supreme Court showdown over the Roe v. Wade decision.

Also this year, the similarly named Colorado Civil Rights Initiative is trying to gather support for a measure that would bar the state from discriminating against, or granting preferential treatment to, any person or group because of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. What sounds inclusive at first blush could mean the end of affirmative action programs as we know them.

The personhood initiative, as it has been called, gained widespread attention after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Nov. 13 that the proposal meets the state's single-subject requirement to appear on ballots.

The anti-affirmative action initiative cleared the same hurdle in September, allowing its supporters to go out and start amassing the roughly 76,000 signatures required.

Toni Panetta, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, says the personhood initiative could have impacts well beyond abortion. Birth-control pills, she points out, can work by preventing ovulation and also by keeping embryos from implanting, should an egg become fertilized.

Could the birth-control pill and other hormonal contraceptives, she wonders, be outlawed if the initiative passes?

Jody Berger, a spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, expresses similar concerns.

But, she notes, "it's a long way from being voted on."

And if it gets on ballots, Berger says, "we're pretty confident that voters will not go for it."

While supporters of the personhood initiative are only beginning their signature drive, the anti-affirmative action campaign already has people out gathering support and raising money.

Ward Connerly, who led the successful effort to ban affirmative action in California, headlined a Monday night, $75-a-plate fundraiser in Denver for the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative.

It's not the first time Connerly has sought to spread his anti-affirmative action message in other parts of the country. Last year, Michigan passed an initiative similar to what is proposed in Colorado. Web sites for the efforts in both states appear to have been made from the same template.

If the effort succeeds in Colorado, it could make it impossible to continue even those programs with a simple goal like encouraging women to study math, science or engineering, suggests Barb Van Hoy, executive director of Citizens Project, a Colorado Springs-based group that supports diversity and the separation of church and state.

Karyna Lemus, a senior at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and president of the school's chapter of the American Association of University Women, says she has already seen supporters of the initiative trying to collect signatures on campus.

She calls the name of the measure and the language in it "misleading."



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