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Personhood

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler said Wednesday that backers of the so-called personhood amendment did not submit the required number of signatures to put their measure on the November ballot. Regardless of what one thinks of abortion or reproductive rights, that should be taken as good news. The proposal was too broad, too extreme and too clearly manipulative.

Besides, Colorado voters have rejected similar ballot measures twice before.

Initiative 46, as it would have appeared on the ballot, would have amended the state Constitution to declare that “a ‘human being’ is a member of the species homo sapiens at any stage of development.” In other words, a fertilized egg would have been deemed a person under the law.

That would ban all abortions, with no exceptions. In fact, the language of the measure specifically denies exceptions for rape or incest - a position not supported by most Americans, even many who are profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of abortion.

It would go far beyond that, though. By defining conception as the moment an egg is fertilized it would also have banned some popular forms of birth control, as well as in-vitro fertilization. There is no evidence most Coloradans want to forbid either.

Granting “personhood” status to fertilized eggs would also set the stage for a legal challenge that supporters clearly hope would lead to a Supreme Court test of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion. But again, there is no reason to think Colorado voters are eager to mount - or fund - such a protracted legal battle over what is largely seen as settled law.

Now it appears they will not have to get into all that.Backers of the proposed amendment needed 86,105 signatures to get their amendment on the ballot, a number equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the last election for Colorado secretary of state. After a line-by-line analysis of the petitions, the secretary of state’s office rejected more than 23,000 names.

That left the measure short by more than 3,000 signatures.

It is a welcome outcome, but one that raises another question. Colorado voters have rejected “personhood” amendments twice before - the last time, just two years ago, by a 3-1 margin. That was roughly the same result as when voters rejected a similar proposal in 2008.

Can its backers just keep badgering voters, and costing the state money, year after year? Could we enact a rule that says any idea voted down twice cannot be on the ballot again for specified number of years.

Human reproduction is emotional and often controversial. That is particularly true of anything to do with contraception or abortion. The moral and medical issues involved, however, are also extraordinarily complicated and do not lend themselves to bumper-sticker solutions.

The ballot box is not the place to decide the most personal of questions, especially when scientists, theologians and legal scholars can all differ on the specifics. Opposition to abortion is principled and deserving of respect. But that battle belongs in the only places it can be won - in homes and houses of worship.

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