LOS ANGELES — A proposal to define a fertilized human egg as a person will land on Colorado's ballot this November, marking the first time that the question of when life begins will go before voters anywhere in the nation.
The Human Life Amendment, also known as the personhood amendment, says the words "person" or "persons" in the state Constitution should "include any human being from the moment of fertilization." If voters agreed, legal experts say, it would give fertilized eggs the same legal rights and protections to which people are entitled.
The ballot initiative is funded by Colorado for Equal Rights, a grass roots antiabortion organization. Its purpose, initiative sponsor Kristi Burton said, is to lay a legal and legislative basis for protecting the unborn. Its passage would also open the door to modifying other laws for the same purpose, she said.
"We try not to focus on some of the issues that will be taken care of later on," she said, repeatedly saying that the amendment is not aimed at outlawing abortion.
But that is the objective, according to one of the measure's biggest supporters, Colorado Right to Life. "The goal is to restore legal protection to preborn babies from the moment they are conceived, which is the only way we're going to stop abortion," said Leslie Hanks, vice president of the group.
Critics say the aim is not just to outlaw abortion in Colorado but ultimately to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The amendment carries broader implications, critics say, such as limiting medical research involving embryos, inviting intrusive government oversight of pregnancies, and banning certain contraception, including the morning-after pill and the intrauterine device, or IUD.
"If we give fertilized eggs legal rights, abortion could be considered murder and a woman could be sent to jail for making the difficult life decision to terminate a pregnancy," said Crystal Clinkenbeard, spokeswoman for Protect Families, Protect Choice, a coalition of medical professionals, community groups and religious leaders who oppose the measure.
The amendment could expand the reach of the law into other arenas, legal experts say. If a woman miscarries, she could be held responsible. Damaged eggs might be eligible for monetary damages. The use of fertilized eggs at fertility clinics or in medical research labs would come into question. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the measure could go before voters in November.