Abortion is on the ballot, even if the word itself isn't

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The word itself may not appear on the ballot, but abortion will be a big issue in three states tomorrow. Here’s what you need to know.


Colorado's "personhood' amendment would change the state's criminal code to include "unborn human beings." That's an ambiguous term, but it essentially means a person could face charges for ending a pregnancy anywhere from the fertilized egg-stage through the time a fetus is near full-term.


Proponents, including a woman who lost her unborn baby after a drunk driver hit her and escaped charges related to the baby's death, say the amendment would close a legal loophole.

But critics, including Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, say the measure is an attempt to ban abortion and limit contraception.

"It's a perfect illustration of why legislators should not be practicing medicine," Richards said during a phone interview from Texas, a state that recently attempted its own abortion restrictions.

Cathy Alderman, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told Fusion "the loophole has already been closed" by 2013 legislation that lets law enforcement press charges where criminal behavior leads to the termination of a pregnancy.


The measure's wording, she said, is deliberately confusing and could outlaw abortion even in the case of rape or incest, force women who experience miscarriage to go through a criminal investigation, and prohibit some forms of contraception and fertility treatments.

"They very clearly have the intention of banning abortion but are just kind of hiding behind the notion of fetal homicide," Alderman said.


Colorado voters have twice defeated similar measures, but this version worries critics, who say its portrayal as a protective measure could sway some voters.

"Because of the way the measure is worded, they don't actually have to run a campaign," Alderman said. "People are confused by it and vote for it until they find out what it does."


Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman for Personhood USA, which is backing the amendment, said that while the intent was not to ban abortion, those backing the amendment were "not interested in writing specific exceptions for abortion providers."

She disputes Planned Parenthood's claims that the measure would put women who suffer miscarriages at risk, but said that forms of birth control "that intentionally kill an unborn child" could be banned. Planned Parenthood worries Plan B, the morning-after pill, and IUDs could be impacted, as anti-abortion activists have argued they are "abortifacients."


Banning birth control is "absolutely part and parcel of what the personhood amendment is about," Richards said.

Although polls suggest the amendment, which, if enacted would be the first of its kind in the nation, faces an uphill battle, it could still impact Colorado's Senate race, which is one of the tightest in the country stands to play a role in which party controls the Senate.


Incumbent Senator Mark Udall (D) has blasted Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner for supporting similar measures in the past, although Gardner, now running for wider office, has distanced himself from the current amendment.

North Dakota

North Dakota voters will also be asked to consider a "personhood" amendment on Nov. 4.


Measure 1 would change the language in the state's constitution to protect the right to life of "every human being at any stage of development.”

The state is more conservative than Colorado and already has just one abortion provider. This week, the state's Supreme Court allowed a law that restricts medication-induced abortions to take effect.


Opponents worry, as the New York Times editorial board recently put it, that the state "has been so inhospitable to reproductive rights…that its initiative will be tougher to beat than Colorado’s."


Amendment 1 would change Tennessee's constitution to give lawmakers more power to enact new abortion restrictions. Recent polling suggests voters are so divided its outcome is too close to call.


Conservative lawmakers in the state have passed measures that make abortion more difficult, such as mandatory waiting periods, but they have been struck down by the state's Supreme Court. This measure would make them easier to enforce.

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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