By Jessica Dweck
On Election Day, Colorado residents will determine who gets to be a person. They’ll vote on Amendment 62, which defines a person as a human being from the beginning of “biological development.” That’s code for conception. The measure would grant fertilized eggs the right to life, liberty, happiness and due process of law, effectively banning abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, and potentially outlawing IVF treatment, vaginal birth after Caesarean section and some forms of birth control. Authorities in other states have experimented with treating viable, late-stage fetuses as legal persons, opening the door to homicide and other criminal charges against pregnant women who endanger the health of their fetuses by refusing to undergo C-sections or causing a miscarriage.
Colorado has gone down the fetal personhood road before. In 2008, voters rejected a nearly identically worded measure by a 3-1 margin. What’s new this time is a provocative radio campaign that tries to equate pregnancy with owning a slave.
Over a background of ominous horns and patriotic fife-and-drum music, an actor posing as a 19th-century African-American slave urges listeners to vote for 62:
I’m George Stevens and I’m a person. I was held as property as a child. … 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. … This November, vote “yes” on Amendment 62. Amendment 62 declares unborn children persons, not property. And that’s the America I fought for.
The radio spot aired on religious and conservative stations, but when the national news caught wind of it at a Personhood Colorado press conference, a number of African-American and women’s groups took offense. Even the Colorado NAACP, traditionally silent on debates over reproductive health, came out publicly against the amendment this month. In responding to the ad, some organizations tried to turn the slavery analogy on its head. For them, it is pregnant women, not fetuses, who are at risk in the abortion wars. “As an African-American woman, I find it disrespectful and dishonest,” said Loretta Ross, national coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, “We’re talking about re-enslaving women and using slavery as the analogy. It’s insulting.”