The Colorado Fetal Personhood Amendment: Embryos Are Slaves

October 06, 2010 11:29 am ET — Anne-Elizabeth Johnson

Amendment 62 in Colorado, the "Personhood" amendment, is one of the most controversial ballot initiatives in the November elections.  The amendment calls for changing the Colorado Constitution so that the definition of a human being includes the beginning of biological development.  In essence, the amendment wants to extend constitutional protections to all fertilized eggs.  The amendment, if passed, could have major ramifications on reproductive freedom, including banning abortions and contraceptives, altering procedures for in vitro fertilization, a popular procedure used for people with infertility issues, and even possibly prohibiting a woman of child-bearing age from seeking chemotherapy

While the proponents of this law see it is a way to ensure that the rights of the "pre-born" are protected, critics of the law argue that the amendment would allow the government to infringe upon one of Colorado citizens' most fundamental rights, the right to privacy free from governmental intrusion.  Personhood Colorado, the organization sponsoring the initiative, proclaims its goal in big, bold letters on the website: "END ABORTION NOW."

In their Facebook ad campaign, "Yes on 62," a young mother is portrayed declaring how her baby is considered property in the eyes of the law and how she "could even choose to have [her baby] killed, right up to the moment before she's born!"  In actuality, the ad is misleading because Roe v. Wade restricts the right of the mother to have an abortion whenever she wants and increases the state's ability to intercede during both the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. 

The pro-life organization's main slogan, "Persons, not property, " draws a controversial comparison of acquiring rights for human embryos to the arduous struggle that African American slaves endured in their struggle to achieve freedom.  Here is the transcript of the radio ad of a fictitious slave's account:

"I'm George Stevens and I'm a person. I was held as property as a child. Even before my birth I was called a slave in an America you wouldn't recognize. But folks like you helped me escape North to freedom and in 1864, I joined the infantry to fight for my country. I fought so all slaves would be recognized as persons, not property. And we won.

But today in Colorado, there are still people called property — children — just like I was. And that America you thought you wouldn't recognize is all around you and these children are being killed.

This November, vote 'yes' on Amendment 62. Amendment 62 declares unborn children persons, not property. And that's the America I fought for.

So visit and in November, vote "yes" on 62. It's the right thing to do"

By invoking one of the darkest periods in our nation's history to advance a political agenda, Personhood Colorado made a cynical calculation that fear and dishonesty will be rewarded at the ballot box.  It is instructive that during the 60-second ad, the actor says "slave" and "property" a total of six times, but not once does it mention "abortion" or "choice" — a Constitutional right that is overwhelmingly supported by Coloradans.  Not only does the ad shamefully exploit slavery to promote an anti-choice agenda, its logic is deeply flawed and the amendment is flatly unconstitutional.

One critic, Pamela Merritt, makes the argument that this anti-choice group circumvents answering any questions that would be useful to voters in assessing the real-life ramifications of voting "YES" for this amendment.  Instead, Personhood Colorado paints a picture of "fetal emancipation." She further explains:

Now there is an attempt to define a fetus as a slave, which begs the question — who is the master?  Who would Amendment 62 emancipate fetal slaves from?  That's right — women.  In the world of fetal "personhood" women are slave masters and our reproductive rights hold the fetus in bondage.  That is the latest false claim currently floating out in the atmosphere, sent forth through the voice of a fictional slave in a radio ad.  The reality is that Amendment 62 will not bring about fetal emancipation — this so-called "personhood" initiative would grant the government complete control over women's bodies.

In a recent interview, the president of Personhood U.S.A., Keith Mason, compared reproductive terminology to racial epithets.  "I think it's important to note with the term fertilized egg, that's the same thing as using the N word for an African American," said Mason. "Because it's a dehumanizing term and it's not based in science. The term would be a zygote, or an embryo, speaking of a unique individual."

Personhood Colorado's attempt to analogize civil rights with their cause is a major exploitation of the history of African-Americans, a misinformed interpretation of the Constitution, and intellectually dishonest.