Supporters of Life Begins at Conception Measure Face Uphill Battle

LA JUNTA, Colo. - Those who hope Colorado becomes the first state where voters say life begins at conception are facing resistance from a seemingly unexpected place: The Roman Catholic Church and anti-abortion activists.

The amendment would change the state constitution to say that the word, "person," "shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization," with all the constitutional rights that confers.

The change wouldn't immediately outlaw abortion in Colorado. But it would set up legal battles that backers and opponents say would compel judicial reviews of federally guaranteed abortion rights.

Interestingly, some of the amendment's most prominent adversaries oppose abortion.

National anti-abortion opposition groups aren't funding it. Colorado's anti-abortion Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, held a press conference on the Capitol steps to denounce it, joining the Colorado Bar Association and the Colorado Medical Society.

The executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, Jennifer Kraska, said the church believes life begins at conception. But Kraska said Catholics fear that the amendment's passage wouldn't end abortion but rather lead to judicial reaffirmation of abortion rights.

"We just don't think this is the best way to pursue the end of abortion," Kraska said.

Doctors warn they could be guilty for murder for helping a couple conceive a child using in-vitro methods that often require disposal of fertilized eggs. Ritter, who opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or medical emergency, said the state would pile up legal bills defending the amendment.

"It would create a legal nightmare," he said.

Similar "personhood" amendments were proposed in other states, but only Colorado has it on the ballot, thanks to sponsor Kristi Burton, a 21-year-old who attends a conservative online law school.

"You don't have to be a Christian or any religion to agree with this: At the moment of conception, a new and unique human being has been created," said Burton.

Burton doesn't seem to mind her lonely job. She canvasses the state in her parents' Chevy Tahoe, passing out pictures of babies and advocating the amendment with church groups, home-schooler meetings and small-town talk radio.

Ignoring unflattering press portrayals of her as a pawn of a misguided effort to end abortion, Burton insists her amendment won't be the disaster opponents claim.

"They're trying to avoid the central question, and they want to scare people," Burton told a small group recently gathered at Trinity Lutheran Church in La Junta, a southeastern Colorado town of 8,000 on the Arkansas River.

"It's not the comet that's going to come and crash the world into a million pieces. It's just a definition," she said.

The preacher who invited Burton, the Rev. Tony Bolen, concedes that some his parishioners aren't sure what to make of it all. Bolen has called for the amendment's passage from the pulpit, and some of his flock don't like it.

"Our stances are 100 percent pro-life, but I've even alienated my own congregation over this," said Bolen. He said three families have left his congregation since he started preaching on the personhood amendment.

"It's kind of shaken me, how many in my own congregation that are on the other side of this," he says.

A couple of people in the audience are sold. Homemaker Danielle Head thinks it's a pretty simple issue.

"It's just about life. I hope that people will stand up and support this," Head said.

Passing out promotional DVDs after the meeting, Burton said she won't give up. She concedes that her campaign is poorly funded and hasn't polled the question, and that news reports have cited telephone polls showing it has more opponents than backers. But Burton believes Coloradans will intuitively support it. The campaign turned in twice the required signatures to get it on ballots.

"Because it's a definition, it can only do so much. But it does get the truth out there," Burton said. "A lot of people say, 'Well, if this doesn't automatically ban abortion, why do it?' Well, it sets the foundation. And then we can go from there."