DENVER -- Twenty-three college students pace along the sidewalk, reciting the rosary, holding their beads.
Completing their prayers, they head across the street to their cars. It's just another day in their mission with Christ in the City
, sponsored by Denver's Catholic Charities.
It's also just another day at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains
, where inside men and women are coming and going from the busy medical clinic that provides health care, birth control and, yes, abortions. The protesters -- and the Christ in the City kids are considered particularly peaceful -- are often part of the scenery.
It is, if you want to simplify it, all about the fertilized human egg.
Of course, it's also far more complicated than that.
Just ask Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America
and its political arm, Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Last week, Richards spent the day at the second-floor offices at the Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountain headquarters, meeting with supporters and reporters, taking calls and formulating strategy to battle a proposal that would basically designate fertilized eggs as "persons." It's an effort that failed miserably in 2008, with 73 percent of voters opposing it. But this year, the effort is being resurrected in Colorado and other states as well.
Actually, this year's Colorado ballot measure
, Amendment 62, doesn't refer to "the moment of fertilization," as the 2008 bill did. Instead, it says "the term 'person' shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being."
And while a state group, Personhood Colorado
, is promoting the constitutional amendment, Colorado is also home to Personhood USA
, a group trying to get voters and lawmakers in other states to adopt "personhood" laws.
"I think there are some national funders who like to use Colorado as a petri dish," Richards said last week.
Primary among the funders, donating $10,000 of the $15,000-plus collected by the Colorado effort so far this year, is the American Life League
. It's a national organization that opposes abortion, contraception, assisted suicide, in vitro fertilization and stem-cell research.
Personhood Colorado's website
acknowledges that Amendment 62 would ban all abortions, without exceptions for rape, incest or to save a mother's life. It also would ban stem cell research and birth control other than "barrier methods."
"It reaches into birth control, it reaches into fertility treatments," Richards said. "The legal turmoil this could create is so immense. I think that's just the purpose of this amendment . . . to go far beyond choice; it's to take away women's right to family planning."
Why bring back a ballot measure that suffered resounding defeat in 2008?
"They are still murdering children, and that must stop," said Cal Zastrow
, a co-founder of Personhood USA. "Anybody can plan their family anyway they want to, but if they use surgery or drugs . . . then those are innocent children who need to be protected."
His organization also advocates offering fertilized eggs from in vitro fertilization to couples who want to have children.
"There are thousands of frozen children in IVF clinics," Zastrow said. "Those children need to be loved and cared for and adopted out."
The organization is trying to spread its efforts beyond Colorado, though its success is a mixed bag. Organizers failed to collect enough signatures for a ballot issue in Nevada
. They're trying to get the issue on the Montana ballot this year, with Zastrow, his wife and four children living in Billings to work on the effort. Mississippi will vote on the issue in 2011, and signatures are being collected in Florida. They're also encouraging state lawmakers to introduce "personhood" laws
"This issue is beginning to burble up in a number of other states," Planned Parenthood's Richards said.
But she noted that there are positive side effects to such efforts: They activate voters who support abortion rights, and those voters not only vote against such initiatives but support candidates who oppose them. That could be a factor this year, when many Republican candidates are embracing such efforts to appeal to conservative voters.
In Colorado, for instance, GOP Senate candidates Jane Norton and Ken Buck and GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott McInnis and Dan Maes says they support Amendment 62
. That's a switch from two years ago, when GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams and U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer failed to endorse it. Even National Right to Life and Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput stayed silent on the measure. Zastrow said he doesn't know if they'll weigh in this time around.
As Personhood Colorado gears up for the fall election, so to does Protect Families, Protect Choices
, the organization that worked against the 2008 measure. The group raised and spent more than $1.7 million to fight the initiative two years ago, compared with $336,471 spent by Colorado for Equal Rights, the opposing group in 2008.
Planned Parenthood's political arm is part of that coalition, as well as a larger roundtable of Democratic-leaning interests that's known for coordinating strategy, fundraising and voter turnout.
That gives Richards and others hope to defeat Amendment 62, as well as to elect candidates who support it in a state that became the first to legalize modern-day abortion in 1967.
"The political winds in the Republican primaries are creating some unintended consequences," Richards said. "This is a state of moderation, a state of not wanting government interference in people's lives."