The radical “personhood” movement was dealt a significant blow on Tuesday night, when voters in North Dakota and Colorado resoundingly defeated two ballot initiatives that would have redefined life to extend legal protections to fertilized eggs.
In Colorado, Amendment 67 — which sought to update the state’s criminal code to define fetuses as children — failed by a large 64 percent to 36 percent margin. It marks the third time that Colorado voters have rejected personhood.
Meanwhile, in North Dakota, an effort to overhaul the state’s constitution to protect “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development” looked like it was poised to pass. Personhood proponents were hopeful that the conservative state would hand them their first major victory, galvanizing the push for similarly restrictive laws in other states. But Amendment 1 was defeated by similarly wide margins as the initiative in Colorado.
Reproductive rights advocates are celebrating the defeat of both measures as an important victory against personhood, a strategy that’s so radical that it has begun to divide the anti-choice community.
“We are relieved and overjoyed. This is a win for the families of North Dakota — but also for our entire country,” Sarah Stoesz, the president of the Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund, said in a statement. “The Personhood movement took another major blow and it’s time for them to stop pushing this agenda on women and families in state after state.”
The groups pushing for both ballot initiatives attempted to distance themselves from the personhood movement, saying that the measures shouldn’t actually be considered personhood attempts because they didn’t explicitly reference conception. This was likely an effort to make the legislation appear to be more moderate. Nonetheless, the national anti-abortion group spearheading the movement, Personhood USA, was happy to associate itself with the ballot measures.
This election marks the fourth and fifth times that a personhood measure has failed within the past six years. In addition to Colorado’s previous two attempts to pass personhood, Mississippi voters also rejected a ballot initiative in 2011 that would have defined life as beginning at conception.
Despite the defeats for personhood, however, reproductive rights didn’t score victories in every state last night. In Tennessee, voters narrowly approved Amendment 1, a ballot initiative that gives lawmakers more power to restrict abortion on the state level, with 53 percent of the vote.
And in general, efforts to restrict abortion access have been overwhelmingly successful over the past several years, ever since Republicans picked up hundreds of seats in state legislatures across the country. Opponents of the procedure have had particular success in advancing more subtle attacks, like legislation to over-regulate abortion clinics, that don’t appear to be insidious on the surface. It’s the bolder and more obviously restrictive laws, like personhood, that voters are able to see through.