By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

DENVER, December 18, 2007 ( – A young law student in Colorado has launched an effort to put a resolution on the state ballot in 2008 to acknowledge the personhood of embryos from the moment of fertilization.

Kristi Burton, age 20, is heading a group called “Colorado for Equal Rights” (, which is grabbing the attention of the major media nationwide.  The organization is seeking the 76,000 signatures necessary under Colorado law to subject a resolution to a statewide plebiscite.

The resolution simply reads: “Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Colorado:
SECTION 1. Article II of the constitution of the state of Colorado is amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION to read: Section 31. Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.”

In recent months, personhood bills for the unborn have failed to pass state legislatures in Montana, Virginia, South Carolina and North Dakota, but Burton’s strategy is different. She’s bypassing the legislature altogether, and going directly to the people.

Proponents of the resolution scored a major victory in November when they defeated an attempt by the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) to keep the measure off the ballot. The group claimed that the language was misleading because it didn’t explain the effects that it could have on the availability of abortion in the state.

“The goal is simply to define when life begins,” Burton told the Rocky Mountain News after the verdict.  “We’ll see where it takes us.”

Burton became interested in the issue of personhood for the unborn at the age of 13, when she witnessed a resolution fail in the state legislature that would mandate a 24-hour waiting period for abortions. She believes the power of the initiative lies in its simplicity, saying of its enemies that “they realize this issue is simple and they don’t have an answer for it. They cannot say when this [embryo] becomes a person. We do.”

Burton is working out of an office with a single assistant: her father. However, since she won against NARAL, Colorado for Equal Rights has received a flood of offers for help in gathering signatures.

The Colorado initiative is not without precedent. In January of this year the Bush administration’s Domestic Policy Council explicitly stated that “Embryos are humans in their earliest developmental stage” in its policy statement, “Advancing Stem Cell Science without Destroying Human Life.”

“We do not have to think that human embryos are exactly the same in all ways as older humans to believe that they are entitled to respect and protection”, the report added. “Each of us originated as a single-celled embryo, and from that moment have developed along a continuous biological trajectory throughout our existence. To speak of ‘an embryo’ is to designate a human being at a particular stage.”

At least one other state, Illinois, has long defined embryos as human person. The state’s 1975 law led to a much-publicized decision by Judge Jeffrey Lawrence II earlier this year to allow a wrongful death suit by two parents whose children died as embryos after alleged mismanagement by a fertility clinic.  The judge’s decision was based strictly on the letter of the law of the state, which has reportedly survived judicial scrutiny by adding the words “Without in any way restricting the right of privacy of a woman or the right of a woman to an abortion under those decisions”, in a disturbing example of cognitive dissonance.

Although the Illinois law proves that a state can successfully define an embryo as a child, while doing nothing to eliminate or even limit abortion, lawyers at the Thomas Moore Law Center are optimistic about the implications for the right to life if such initiatives are passed, speculating that they might become a Supreme Court test case that could even overturn Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the two decisions that struck down anti-abortion laws in the early 1970s.

Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center says that he “can’t think of a better time than right now to bring the issue forward.  I think the Supreme Court as currently constituted would say ‘leave it to the states’”.