When Heather Surovik was within a month of giving birth to a son, a terrible car accident ended the pregnancy. It was, without a doubt, a heartbreaking trauma for Surovik and her family. Gary Sheats, the man responsible for the accident, was convicted of vehicular assault and driving under the influence of alcohol. He had four prior DUIs. He was awaiting sentencing for this fifth when he died from suicide. From any angle, this series of events is a tragedy and a travesty that justify discussion of substantive changes in a range of laws. How Colorado defines “person” and “child” is not among them.
Backers of Amendment 67 see it differently. Surovik and her unborn son, Brady, have become the public faces of the campaign to amend Colorado’s Constitution so that a “person” – therefore anyone protected by the state’s criminal code and Wrongful Death Act – would include unborn children. With that change, Surovik and 67 supporters argue, Sheats could have been charged for Brady’s death. Perhaps, but in that avenue to potential justice, Amendment 67 would compromise rights extended to all women in Colorado in the form of access to birth control and abortion. Plus, it is not necessary.
After Surovik’s accident, the Colorado Legislature in 2013 passed House Bill 1154, the Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act. That measure created a class of crimes – unlawful termination of a pregnancy – under which offenders can be prosecuted for a mother’s loss. That is as appropriate a remedy possible for an indefensible devastation. The act is clear in excluding medical care and procedures that the mother consented to endure. It also is careful not to confer personhood on those not born. Amendment 67 does no such thing, and it is its nonspecific language that makes it a wholly untenable answer to Surovik’s sorrow.
Because Amendment 67 would extend personhood to “unborn human beings,” crimes committed against those individuals, including wrongful death, would be prosecutable. What the amendment fails to do is define “unborn human beings.” That omission means that any potential future human being – from fertilized egg on – would be protected from any crime, including wrongful death. Of course, if any potential life is a person, any loss of that life potentially is wrongful – for example, birth control that prevents implantation, emergency contraception or abortion. Restricting women’s access to these medical treatments under threat of prosecution will not bring Surovik the justice she seeks. It would create an incredibly intrusive and restrictive environment with regard to women’s health in Colorado.
Fortunately, history shows that Colorado voters have no patience for such offensive measures. Similar attempts from Amendment 67’s proponents were decisively defeated; in 2008 and 2010, personhood initiatives went down by 73 percent and 71 percent, respectively. Nevertheless, proponents gathered enough signatures to ensure the measure will appear on November’s ballot.
In the months to come, supporters will do their best to convince voters that Amendment 67 is needed to protect unborn babies from horrific crimes such as that Surovik endured. It is not – the Colorado Legislature provided a statutory fix in 2013. What Amendment 67 proponents surely will not say is that their initiative would severely restrict women’s access to health care – possibly with criminal consequences for those who seek or provide outlawed treatments. The measure is a dramatic and destructive overreach that Colorado voters have rejected twice and do not need.