Abortion ban fails to make Colorado ballot

DENVER — The nation’s only pending ballot measure to ban abortion in all circumstances has failed to advance to voters in Colorado.

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced Wednesday that backers of the divisive “personhood” amendment fell about 3,900 valid signatures short of the some 86,000 needed.

The rejection was a major setback for abortion foes in the home state of Personhood USA, which said the Colorado proposal was the only measure pending for ballots this fall. Other initiatives are aimed for future years but not this fall, Personhood USA spokeswoman Jennifer Mason said Wednesday.

Personhood proposals go farther than other proposed abortion bans because they would give fertilized embryos all the rights of a born human. They also would ban embryonic stem-cell research and some fertility treatments.

The measures haven’t been backed by other abortion opponents or the Catholic church.

Personhood proposals were overwhelmingly rejected by Colorado voters in 2010 and 2008. Similar measures have been rejected by voters in Mississippi and by several state legislatures.

Colorado has a relatively low threshold for petitioning measures onto ballots, making it a hotbed for proposed citizen initiatives. The rejection of the personhood measure leaves only one citizen initiative on ballots: a proposal to buck federal law and legalize marijuana without a doctor’s recommendation for adults over 21.

Personhood USA vowed to fight the Colorado rejection in court. The group argues some of the signatures were improperly rejected, including some on which a notary public changed a date.

“We are going to be filing to have those ballot signatures recounted, and we are confident personhood will be on ballots this fall,” Mason said.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which campaigned against the two earlier personhood proposals and was raising money to do it again this year, lauded the rejection. Spokeswoman Monica McCafferty said support for the idea is eroding.

“This year they’re not even getting people to sign on to the concept,” she said. “Hopefully that signals that Coloradans understand the concept, that they don’t like the outcome of what this would mean.”

The political implications of Colorado’s personhood decision were immediately apparent. Democrats say the unpopular measure has helped motivate female voters, and they immediately scrambled to connect Republicans to the measure even though it’s not on ballots.

A Democratic suburban Denver congressman being challenged by well-funded Republican Joe Coors reminded voters that Coors once gave money to personhood backers.

“Regardless of this initiative appearing on the ballot, this doesn’t change Joe Coors’ extreme views and past funding and support for efforts to restrict a woman’s ability to make her own medical decisions,” read a statement from the spokeswoman for Rep. Ed Perlmutter.

A Democratic strategist who worked to fight the previous Colorado personhood measures said Democrats will still campaign on abortion this year, even without a personhood proposal on ballots. She pointed out that Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan opposes abortion in all cases and sponsored a federal version of a personhood measure.

“What began as a fringe issue in Colorado in 2008 has become a mainstream issue for the Republican Party in 2012,” Laura Chapin said. “When you’ve got Paul Ryan on the ticket, I would say yes, this is going to be a major issue in the campaign for women voters.”

The head of Colorado’s Democratic party put out a statement Wednesday saying Ryan and other Republicans still have an “extreme agenda” aimed at ending abortion rights.

Mason insisted personhood ballot proposals draw social conservatives to the polls as much as they draw abortion-rights supporters. She said the rejection of Colorado’s personhood amendment could hurt Mitt Romney, because some social conservatives find him too moderate and may stay home without personhood on ballots.

The presidential campaigns did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the Colorado personhood decision.

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