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Voice for Brady ad deceives and misstates facts


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By Peri Duncan
CU News Corps

Amendment 67, another personhood issue on the Colorado ballot (Coloradans rejected two similar amendments in 2008 and 2010), continues to produce many deceptive and emotionally charged claims on both sides.

The “Voice for Brady” campaign is the primary supporter of the proposed amendment to the state constitution and the group behind the advertising campaign for its passage. It counts on support from Personhood USA, a pro-life organization, which is also backing a similar measure in North Dakota. Its website hosts pages for Amendment 67 and North Dakota’s Measure 1.

Much of the imagery and wording on the Personhood USA page about Amendment 67 mirrors the “A Voice for Brady” website, including the following statement:

“Because Colorado law doesn’t recognize Brady as a person, there was no prosecution for his tragic death.”

CU News Corps finds this claim to be deceptive for the following reasons:Capture00

  • It uses a trusted propaganda technique, “appeal to emotion:”

    • The statement references Heather Surovik’s unborn child in a very personal and emotional way, as “Brady,” his would-be first name.

    • The statement refers to the accident as “his tragic death,” an emotionally charged statement.

While these emotional appeals may distort the truth, News Corps found the following piece to be plain wrong:

  • The statement claims there was “no prosecution” for the death of the unborn child.

Background

Early in the 2012 legislative session, before the loss of Heather Surovik’s unborn child, the Colorado General Assembly attempted and failed to pass HB 12-1130, “Concerning offenses against an unborn child,” which introduced a series of “unlawful termination of a pregnancy” offenses as Class 3 felonies. Later that year, Surovik’s pregnancy ended at eight months when she was involved in an automobile crash.

In reaction to that crash, the legislature in 2013 passed HB 13-1154, “Concerning Crimes Against Pregnant Women,” introducing new offenses similar to those in HB12-1130. The law contained more details and harsher sentencing than its 2012 version, classifying some cases of unlawful termination of a pregnancy as Class 1 and Class 2 felonies. It also added mandatory sentencing for violent crimes, including first- and second-degree unlawful termination of a pregnancy.

In 2014 Colorado passed HB 14-1388, in order to “allow a woman to sue a person who ‘intentionally, knowingly or recklessly’ causes an ‘unlawful termination of her pregnancy’ for her own economic damages, non-economic damages and exemplary damages.”

These laws do not ban abortion, nor do they have the potential to. They also do not give personhood to an unborn child. But they do answer the call for legislation that addresses the loss of a fetus.

Personhood USA opposed all of these bills, and the Brady Campaign says the legislation doesn’t go far enough.

Appeal to Emotion

The tactic of appealing to readers’ emotions manipulates certain responses in place of using valid or compelling arguments. Although some valid arguments may include emotional aspects, emotions can and will cloud the logic of an argument for the reader.

“This is done instead of appealing directly to the values and policies being debated: it is also usually a red herring, since the personhood amendment would do a lot more than just change the circumstances of this specific case,” said Kelsey Cody, a graduate student and writing instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Heather Surovik was eight months pregnant at the time of the car crash. Referencing Heather Surovik’s unborn child by his given name, Personhood USA and “A Voice for Brady” appeal to the emotions of the reader. This is a significant problem because it is more difficult for readers to detach themselves and logically assess the consequences of an issue when their emotions are being manipulated, Cody said.

“His Tragic Death”

Calling the accident “his tragic death,” the statement once again uses the fallacy of appealing to readers’ emotions.

The first key piece of the phrase “his tragic death” is the word “his.” Using gendered pronouns in reference to the unborn child, despite that the child would have been born a male, is furthering the personification of the fetus and equating the life of the unborn to that of a fully developed human. The reader is likely unaware that this appeal to emotion is happening when reading this statement, as it is presented as fact.

The second piece of the phrase, the words “tragic death,” already puts the incident in a certain light in the mind of the reader. Although situations such as this one are often referred to as tragedies, Amendment 67 is not about the tragedy itself, it is about the protection of pregnant mothers and their unborn children. The use of the word “tragic” plays on the readers’ emotions.

“No prosecution”

The statement claims there was “no prosecution” for the death of the unborn child.

Gary Sheats, the drunk driver who hit Surovik on July 5, 2012, had a blood alcohol level of .292 at the time of the accident. This was his fifth DUI charge, and he was driving on a revoked license. He also suffered from stage-IV Lymphoma, and his father said Sheats only had a short time left to live.

The DUI charge itself is only a misdemeanor, warranting between two months and a year in jail. Stan Garnett, the Boulder County district attorney, charged Sheats with multiple felony charges of vehicular assault involving DUI, as well as leaving the scene of an accident that caused serious bodily injury.

Sheats pleaded guilty in February 2013 to two counts of felony vehicular assault and DUI, facing up to 20 years in prison.

On March 13, 2013, the Denver Officer of the Medical Examiner confirmed that a man found dead the day before in a Denver Motel 6 was Gary Sheats, the drunk driver who caused the death of Heather Surovik’s unborn child.

For these reasons, the statement that there was “no prosecution” is wrong.

“There was a prosecution, and it was quite vigorous. Mr. Sheats was found guilty and would have been sentenced to 20 years in prison. Though it is true that there was no prosecution specifically related to the loss of the fetus, the lack of a ‘personhood’ designation was not the reason, as the statement suggests. Rather, it was due to a gap in the law that has been filled by recent statute,” Garnett said. The statutes he refers to are the above-mentioned Colorado House bills.

To clarify, Sheats, who was dying of cancer, was not prosecuted specifically for the part he played in the death of Surovik’s unborn child. He was prosecuted for multiple counts of vehicular assault involving DUI as well as leaving the crime scene and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Shortly after he pleaded guilty to these charges, Sheats took his own life. Despite the fact that the statement may specifically refer to the lack of prosecution for the loss of the fetus, it is plain wrong because of its finality and lack of detail on the actual conclusion of the case against Sheats.

In summary, the phrasing of this statement from the “Voice for Brady” and Personhood campaigns hardly represents the truth. Although seemingly harmless, referring to the unborn child as “Brady,” along with labeling his death as “tragic” is deceptive through appealing to the emotion of the reader and can severely inhibit his or her understanding of the statement. There is also no clarification or any mention at all of what happened to the drunk driver, aside from the phrase, “no prosecution.” Without further clarification to the reader that the statement references specifically the loss of the fetus, the phrase “no prosecution” is plain wrong.

**Note: Previously, CU News Corps fact-checked a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s advertisement against Cory Gardner. In order to continue balanced coverage, this fact check addresses the opposite side of the issue.**

 

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Explanatory Multimedia Reporting from CU Boulder Journalism Students
Voice for Brady ad deceives and misstates facts