Online Debate Examines Colorado Personhood Amendment Tactic

Update (December 16, 2010): Rebuttals have now been posted below each opening statement
Second rebuttals have been posted as of December 10, 2010. Concluding arguments have been posted as of December 16. There will be no further formal postings from Mr. Ashley or Mr. Ertelt, who are now free to engage in discussion with you, the readers, in the comments section at the bottom of this article.

For many years Operation Rescue has worked to restore legal protections to the pre-born. In early 2006, when South Dakota was attempting to pass the first state-wide ban on abortion, Operation Rescue was there supporting those efforts. Later, when that law was challenged through the referendum process, Operation Rescue was there.

We sent one of our missionaries at that time, Keith Mason, who now heads Personhood U.S.A., to South Dakota, Mississippi, and elsewhere to learn all he could about the abortion bans that were sweeping the nation in 2006, so we could know best how to support those efforts.

In our office, we often discussed the topic of personhood and how the “Blackman Hole” was the loophole in Roe v. Wade that could eventually lead our country back to restoring legal protections for all, no matter the age or stage of development. (Read one of our articles from 2006 discussing this topic.) One could say that the Personhood Movement was birthed in our office.

Keith Mason learned well from us, and after leaving Operation Rescue, he founded Personhood U.S.A. and began promoting Personhood amendments throughout the country, especially in Colorado.

Recently, a lively discussion on Facebook concerning Colorado’s twice defeated Amendment 62 prompted Newman to extend an invitation to the Personhood camp and to those who question the wisdom of tactics used by Personhood U.S.A. in Colorado to a friendly debate. We asked both sides to submit 400 word statements in support of their views. We asked only that both sides refrain from ad hominem attacks. Other than removing any name-calling, we promised not to alter their statements in any way. (In fact, we have printed the statements submitted without edits of any kind.) Unfortunately, that one condition caused several from Personhood U.S.A. to pull out of the debate.

However, Keith Ashley, of Personhood Kansas graciously agreed to step in and submit a statement on behalf of the Personhood organization. Steven Ertelt, Editor of LifeNews.com, has agreed to submit a statement in opposition.

We literally flipped a coin to see whose statement would post first. Mr. Ashley won the coin toss and will appear first, with Mr. Ertelt’s statement directly below.

We encourage you to read the two statements and engage in the debate through the comment feature at the end of the articles. Which side do you favor? We ask, as we have with our debaters, that those who comment abstain from ad hominem attacks and profanity. All comments are moderated, and while we encourage debate, we will not allow personal attacks on individuals or groups.

“It is our prayer that this debate will air ideas that will ultimately be beneficial for the Pro-life Movement as a whole and help guide us toward the most efficient and practical way to stop abortion in America as soon as humanly possible,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. “That is a goal to which we can all agree.”

PRO

For 38 years, incrementalists have advocated for legislation that purports to “chip away” at Roe. They’ve passed parental notification laws–the abortionists point to the nearest court handing out judicial bypasses. They push for late-term abortion bans with health exceptions–the courts sweep in and define the terms to include mental health disorders such as depression and stress, common side effects of pregnancy. They tout achievements such as the Federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban–the abortionists go about their daily business using alternate methods to burn and dismember defenseless children. The good people of Colorado and many of us around the country are of the opinion that the time has come to change course.

A Gallup poll taken last May found that people who identify as “pro-life” once again outnumber those who identify as “pro-choice.” 19% of the country believes that abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances,” and the highest percentage, 37%, responded that abortion should be “legal in only a few circumstances.” It’s assumed that these “few circumstances” are those children conceived by rape and those whose lives are in conflict with their mothers. I submit to you that the reason for this disconnect is a confusion of the cause and effect.

Incrementalists believe that the cause is the opinions held by the people—with the effect being that the only option left to them is to pass laws with wide public support. The reality is that the opinions are the result of decades of pandering. Because the issue has been so completely politicized, people who identify as “pro-life” look to their political leaders for guidance. These leaders include pro-life advocacy organizations, and because they have been eager to compromise, so too have the people.

A poll taken before the election in 2008 found that just 9% of Coloradoans supported a total ban on abortion—far below national averages. However, when it came time to pull the lever this year, 30% voted to declare that every human being is a person no matter their age. Personhood moves the base. Personhood is a game changer. Personhood distances the movement from one concerned with banning an institutionalized medical procedure and repositions it as an education and recognition of the positive human rights of the youngest people. Coloradoans and Americans everywhere are in desperate need of shepherding towards the principled and morally consistent position. In this, A62 has been a success.

Keith Ashley is a husband and father of three. He is the former Director of Rock for Life Kansas and a current committee member with Personhood Kansas, a grassroots organization campaigning to amend the Kansas Constitution to recognize the right to life of every human person from our biological beginnings. Keith also works full-time in Christian ministry at a home for teenage boys and volunteers with Justice for All, a pro-life campus outreach group based out of Wichita.
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Rebuttal to “PRO” Statement
By Steven Ertelt, Founder and Editor, Lifenews.com

Keith’s initial post in this exchange is, sadly, not a defense of running the amendment in Colorado but a criticism of other pro-life efforts.
He criticizes “incrementalists” who want to pass laws to stop some abortions while we work to eliminate all of them and defines most pro-lifers as something other than who we are and what we want. We absolutely want abortion ended immediately, but we recognize the only way to legally protect unborn children is through the political process — a long-term proposition akin to ending slavery.

The question is not whether, as Keith unfortunately describes it, anyone is “eager to compromise” but what will we do until we can protect every unborn child.

Until then, should we at least ban one form of abortion (which doesn’t have a health exception as Keith claimed)? Should we ensure taxpayers aren’t forced to fund abortions?
Should we at least ensure parents know when their little girl wants an abortion or leave them in the dark? Should we ensure women know the development of their baby and receive information on abortion alternatives?

The answer for all but the most extreme pro-abortion Americans is absolutely yes. And because half to two-thirds of Americans agree with those proposals, we’ve shifted public opinion to the pro-life side, as reflected in the Gallup poll Ashley cited.

Also, the evidence shows “incrementalism” is working as we’re perhaps two judges closer to overturning Roe and abortions have dropped to historic lows in many states.

Passing laws to stop as many abortions as possible, until we can ban abortion outright, has stopped a massive number of abortions. States like Mississippi, Michigan, South Carolina and Missouri have seen abortions cut in half thanks to these laws. Those clearly are “achievements” worth celebrating and “changing course” makes little sense.

Finally, as to the lone defense of the amendment, Ashley claims it moves the base — but the opposite appears to be true.

In a Democratic election year the amendment received just 27 percent while, in this Republican year, it received just 29 percent. The 2010 elections saw a 7 percent Republican shift from 2008, but the amendment only gained two percent. If Keith is right, and the amendment can successfully shift public opinion, it should have gained more than 7 percent. Instead, the amendment ran behind public opinion and will undoubtedly be defeated again in 2012.
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Reply by Mr. Ashley, Personhood Kansas

Surely Mr. Ertelt could agree that it is valid, in an opinionated debate concerning pro-life strategy, to open with the major criticisms of the alternative in demonstrating the necessity of challenging the status quo.

Some of the questions he poses present an opportunity for agreement. Some do not. In any case, the
answer to all of them is “personhood.” The more pressing area of disagreement is in his premise–that
these personhood measures are destined for failure.

Personhood advocates believe that we are called to be faithful, and in so doing, we have discovered a
legal basis that we intend to exploit, primarily, “the authority of the State to exercise its police power
or its sovereign right to adopt in its own Constitution individual liberties more expansive than those
conferred by the Federal Constitution” (Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, 1980). For interested
parties, an in depth analysis can be found in “Personhood: A Path to Victory” by Gualberto Garcia Jones,
J.D. under the “Articles” tab at PersonhoodKansas.com.

Mr. Ertelt’s rebuttal goes on to claim that “we’ve shifted public opinion to the pro-life side.” In
reality, medical and technological advances, educational projects, graphic displays, youth outreach
organizations, sidewalk counselors, and CPC’s can claim responsibility for changing hearts and
minds. These most noble endeavors are separate from the incremental legal strategy. Instead,
advocates of the incremental legal strategy can make claim in helping to moderate personal and political
positions.

When taking issue with the concept that personhood moves the base, Mr. Ertelt is comparing apples
to oranges, and a bit of clarification is in order. The 7% shift he references is a political swing for the
Republican Party in an election dominated by fiscal issues. The personhood phenomenon is a pro-life
movement towards the position that recognizes every abortion as intrinsically evil. From the statistics
I cited in opening, it is obvious that Amendments 48 and 62 can account for this 21 point shift in
Colorado. Despite his efforts to convince us of the contrary, these numbers are very encouraging.
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Concluding Argument by Steve Ertelt

The debate in this forum, graciously sponsored by Operation Rescue, is over and the debate about whether another personhood amendment should be proposed in Colorado in 2012 should be over as well.

Typically, when pro-life groups or leaders offer factual criticism of the amendment and the failed legal and political strategy behind it, supporters resort to personal attacks or criticize groups or people who have been working to stop abortions.

That was the case with this forum as Personhood USA would not participate because its officials refused to commit to a good faith debate without attacking me.

Even without personal attacks, Keith’s initial post speaks volumes as his first words were not in defense of the amendment but were an attack on the work the pro-life movement has done that has reduced abortions to historic lows and has shut down hundreds of abortion businesses.

It’s time for amendment supporters to acknowledge these facts:

1. The amendment in Colorado hasn’t even received 30 percent of the vote, let alone a majority, in two tries even under the best case political scenario.

2. The amendment has had no proven political or educational value in terms of shifting public opinion or assisting pro-life candidates and appears to have had the opposite effect.

3. The amendment (in any state) will be immediately overturned in court if it is somehow miraculously approved and amendment supporters have done nothing to change the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and allow the amendment to stand.

4. The amendment, as pro-life attorneys point out (see comments below), may not result in protecting unborn children even if it is approved by voters and upheld in court.

These factual points were not rebutted in this debate. As a result, it is time for amendment supporters to end what is and will continue to be a failed attempt to end abortions via an amendment that, currently, has no chance of saving one unborn child and has hurt pro-life candidates supporting efforts that will end abortion.

The pro-life movement needs real unity behind the only next step that will save lives — defeating President Barack Obama, installing a pro-life president and Senate ,and adding that one additional justice who may prove to be the deciding vote to end Roe and pave the way for the kind of amendments and abortion bans we all want to see.

Will amendment supporters join us or continue these attacks?
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CON

On election day, Colorado voters defeated the personhood amendment for a second time on a lopsided margin. If we truly care about ending abortion, we need to learn some important lessons from this defeat and refocus our efforts.

The 2010 election was a landslide for the pro-life movement, but the Colorado personhood amendment lost by a 71-29 percent margin — just a two percent improvement from the 27 percent who supported it in 2008. The political environment for passing the amendment will likely never be better, yet it came nowhere close to passing.

The second defeat of the personhood amendment came at a price for the pro-life movement.
The time, money and effort spent on an the amendment could have been put towards pro-life candidates Tom Tancredo and Ken Buck, who lost by narrow margins. Instead, we have a governor and senator who will continue to force us to fund the Planned Parenthood and abortion with taxpayer dollars.

The pro-life movement needs to learn from these defeats and understand the solution to end abortion — changing the courts. We have to defeat Barack Obama in 2012 and elect a pro-life Senate to have any chance of overturning Roe v. Wade and banning abortions.

If Colorado backs Obama in 2012 and he becomes president for another four years, he could appoint the Supreme Court judges who will keep unlimited abortions in place for decades. Colorado was the first state to legalize abortions pre-Roe and we could become the state to keep it legal another 37 years unless we focus all our efforts on defeating Obama.

Therefore, we can’t afford to spend considerable time and money on an amendment that is losing at the polls and won’t be upheld in the current pro-abortion Supreme Court. A third campaign for a personhood amendment in 2012 will dilute the resources of the pro-life movement that need to be focused on defeating Obama. And with Obama on the ballot to turn out pro-abortion voters, the amendment won’t win a majority anyway.

We need a united pro-life movement in Colorado and nationwide focusing all of its energy and attention on the 2012 elections — only then can we truly protect unborn children.

As the founder and Editor of LifeNews.com, Steven Ertelt has provided the pro-life community with news via the Internet since 1993. He also serves on the board of directors of Colorado Citizens for Life, the statewide pro-life group. He is the past president of Right to Life of Wyoming and previously served as the executive director of Montana Right to Life and the public affairs director for Indiana Right to Life. Mr. Ertelt is also a former president of Students for Life of America and started the college outreach program at the National Right to Life Committee. A former radio announcer who has been interviewed on dozens of radio and television programs, Mr. Ertelt holds a bachelor’s degree in Politics from Hendrix College.
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Rebuttal to “CON” Statement
By Keith Ashley, Personhood Kansas

One of the lessons learned from A62 is that it requires so very little in resources to mobilize, activate, and educate thousands of people. One could say that these referenda also have the effect of increasing turnout for pro-life candidates down-ballot. And while the pro-life movement is vibrant and young, the old pro-choice guard is dwindling and stale. With this in mind, one could argue that the opposite is true–that one of the best ways to help pro-life candidates in these swing states is by initiating a personhood ballot measure.

With more support from the greater pro-life community to promote measures across the country and pro-life media outlets to help battle the abortion industry propaganda machine, it’s possible to envision what could potentially be the largest pro-life turnout ever.

It has also become a necessary exercise in this debate to examine the possibilities if personhood advocates were to shut down and focus wholly on defeating Obama.

1. We are successful in electing a pro-life candidate. Are we then guaranteed victory?

We would all certainly hope so. However, it must be noted that just a few short years ago, we had elected the most pro-life President and Congress in history. For two decades, seven of the nine justices on the Supreme Court were Republican appointees. And yet, abortion on demand perseveres. It’s safe to say that fully investing ourselves in elections and judicial appointments has, thus far, proven a disappointment.

2. Despite our best efforts, Obama wins reelection. Will we have then let our best opportunity for “decades” pass by?

In reference to Justice Kennedy’s federalist principles and ever increasingly conservative rulings, Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center writes, “In many respects, the best case to present to the Court is one in which a state is seeking to protect human life as a matter of state constitutional law. For a state to amend its constitution to protect life speaks volumes to the Court. And it is perhaps the best case scenario to tip the balance of the scale with Justice Kennedy.”

There may be some room for agreement here in that it will not be Colorado that is first to stop the killing. Instead, we look to Mississippi, who in less than a year from now will take bold and declarative action. And it will be due, in part, to the road map laid out in Colorado.
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Reply from Mr. Ertelt, LifeNews.com

In his rebuttal to my opening statement, Keith makes some claims about the personhood amendment that don’t square with the facts.

He claims the amendment increased turnout for pro-life candidates, yet, as I’ve demonstrated, it ran behind the election momentum and pro-life candidates lost despite running it twice. Claiming an amendment that never managed 30 percent in the polls somehow is responsible for pro-life candidates winning doesn’t pass the straight face test.

Plus, the major pro-life candidates in both election cycles didn’t win. In 2010, statewide pro-life candidates Ken Buck and Tom Tancredo lost. In 2008, Bob Schaffer lost his race. Not only did the amendment not help them, amendment supporters attacked Buck and Schaffer and caused pro-life voters to be confused about their sterling pro-life credentials.

Keith questions what would happen if amendment efforts shut down to focus on what is the only option to end abortion — changing the presidency, the Senate, and, ultimately, the courts. Yet he forgets the central problem with the amendment — it will never be upheld in court, even if passed. Changing the courts is the only route to ending abortion.

He calls efforts to effect change disappointing, but we are potentially just one vote away from perhaps overturning Roe v. Wade. Defeating Obama in 2012 gives us the real chance of getting that fifth vote and possibly protecting unborn children.

If amendment efforts shut down to focus on this goal, the chances increase of electing a president who will appoint justices more likely to reverse Roe and uphold a personhood amendment or abortion ban. Changing the courts is a slow and painstaking process, but we have no other choice if we want abortions banned.

Keith worries about wasted efforts if Obama wins the election. If Obama wins, as I explained in my earlier post, the likelihood of ever reversing Roe and protecting unborn children is almost assuredly put off for decades more because he will be able to further shape the Supreme Court. Why would anyone spend even one second of time on an amendment that is doomed to fail and allow that possibility to occur?

Amendment backers should put aside the amendment in 2012 and put every bit of their time and effort into ensuring that Obama doesn’t keep abortion legal for another 37 years. This election is so crucial to protecting the unborn and every pro-life person must get involved.
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Concluding Argument by Keith Ashley

In closing, it may be useful to note that the pro-life movement is in unanimous agreement that every human being is inherently possessed with the natural, God-given, and unalienable right to life. And it is, not just “banning abortion,” but the recognition of these personhood rights of all people, born and preborn, that is our shared end goal.

The time has come to refocus, and one fact remains–little baby boys and girls, human persons, are being killed by the thousands every day in this country. It is truly unbelievable. We can fight this battle on multiple fronts, and we must have a pro-life movement that considers it their moral obligation to recognize the rights of the preborn now.

For the sake of preborn children everywhere awaiting their fate, let us envision how victory in both camps might serve as a benefit to them. In the most likely event that a personhood measure is ratified at a time not too far distant, it could certainly find its way to the desk of a Supreme Court justice, newly appointed by a pro-life President.

At the same time, “since no one knows the future,” stand with us in truth and have faith in the power of our God to work in the hearts of men. Let us be mindful that the risk we run in delay are the lives of the millions of children scheduled to die in the time between this very moment, the complete nullification of that dreadful decision, and the rectification of law.

If it is defeat that concerns you, take heart! Please be assured that Roe will always be the subject of review by a constitutionally sound court because the “right to abortion” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. It is a myth—a crime against humanity—and we will not break.

Let us also remember that even in defeat, we are victorious. This great nation of ours has lost her way. Whether or not you agree with the potential of a personhood measure to produce the desired result, one must never deny that this educational function—in the very truth of the matter–is one of its greatest assets.

Finally, closing the chapter on Roe may or may not be sufficient in accomplishing this stated end goal. However, the vindication of these rights will certainly spark the great wave across this nation soon to follow. Why would any advocate of life oppose the beginning of the process that many foresee as an eventual necessity–amending our secular laws to definitively recognize the rights of the preborn? If this is indeed the reality we face, Colorado is certainly not exempt.

“The time is always right to do what’s right.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.