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Personhood USA makes a series of false and deceptive claims about previous legislation


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By Peri Duncan
CU News Corps

One of the main supporters of the personhood legislation on Colorado ballots this November is Personhood USA. The group’s website hosts pages about Amendment 67 in Colorado and North Dakota’s Measure 1, another personhood issue up for vote.

The Personhood USA page about Amendment 67 makes the following statement:

“Last summer, those same lawmakers who opposed Heather’s efforts for justice passed the dishonestly-titled ‘Crimes against Pregnant Women Act.’ Planned Parenthood and pro-abortion politicians who opposed Heather’s efforts to bring justice for Brady, have now passed a law that specifically reinforces that babies like Brady are not persons and eliminates criminal liabilities for abortionists who kill women during an abortion. Governor Hickenlooper signed this law, which says that drunk drivers like the one who is responsible for Brady’s death could have as little as a $2,000 fine.”

Although this is a large statement, CU News Corps will break it down as clearly as possible.

The statement is found to be deceptive for the following reasons:

  • It uses the propaganda tactic of appealing to emotions:

    • Referencing both Surovik and her unborn child by first name

    • Using phrases such as “efforts for justice” and “dishonestly-titled”

The statement is found to be false for the following reasons:

  • It claims that the Crimes against Pregnant Women Act “eliminates criminal liabilities for abortionists who kill women during an abortion,” and

  • It claims that drunk drivers in similar situations “could have as little as a $2,000 fine.”

Appeal to Emotion: Deceptive

The statement deceives using the common tactic of appealing to the emotions of the reader. This approach is used in order to convince readers to believe something because of how it makes them feel, as opposed to using a valid or compelling argument to make their point. Some valid arguments may involve emotional aspects, but in these cases emotion is used to cloud the logic of an argument for a reader.

“This is done instead of appealing directly to the values and policies being debated,” said Kelsey Cody, a University of Colorado graduate student and writing instructor, for a previous CU News Corps fact check on another statement that used the appeal to emotion.

Because the personhood issue is very emotionally charged all around (women deserve the right to make their own medical decisions vs. an unborn child’s life is worth the same as that of a person of any age), arguments from both sides of the issue embrace the opportunity to manipulate readers’ emotions in order to make a point.

Referring to Surovik and her unborn child by name -“Heather,” the mother and “Brady,” the unborn child – personalizes the reader with the situation, and has the ability to make them feel closer or more attached and therefore less able to make an informed, logical decision. Through putting references such as this in their statements, the organization is equating the unborn child to a fully developed person in the mind of the reader.

Personhood USA’s statement also uses this method by presenting emotional opinions as truth. More specifically, using the phrases “efforts for justice” and “dishonestly-titled” in such a way implies fact, while these are solely opinions.

Stating that Surovik’s efforts are for “justice” strongly suggests that voting yes on Amendment 67 puts a reader on the morally sound side of the issue. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “justice” is defined as the quality of being just, and “just” is defined as agreeing with what is considered morally right or good. This phrasing occurs more than once in the statement, and is manipulative in a way often unnoticed by readers.

Labeling the Crimes against Pregnant Women Act as “dishonestly-titled,” although more obvious, presents the current legislation in a negative light. Using this phrase also exempts the website from explaining how the act is dishonest, as it presents a “fact” to the reader. This manipulation could be avoided if the author of the statement explained why the title is dishonest.

Claim about Current Legislation: False

According to Personhood USA’s claim, the Crimes against Pregnant Women Act “eliminates criminal liabilities for abortionists who kill women during an abortion.” The legislation referenced, HB 13-1154, states in the Bill Summary:

“The bill excludes from prosecution medical care for which the mother provided consent. The bill does not confer the status of “person” upon a human embryo, fetus, or unborn child at any stage of development prior to live birth. The bill repeals the criminal abortion statutes.”

Within the actual bill, it is further stated:

“Additionally, nothing in this act shall be construed to permit the imposition of criminal penalties against a woman for actions she takes that result in the termination of her pregnancy; and finally, nothing in this act shall be construed to permit the imposition of criminal penalties against a health care provider engaged in providing health care services to a patient.”

And finally, under the exclusions section:

“Nothing in this article shall permit the prosecution of a person for any act of providing medical, osteopathic, surgical, mental health, dental, nursing, optometric, healing, wellness, or pharmaceutical care.”

These segments are the only pieces of the legislation that reference any potential prosecution for healthcare professionals. To clarify, the act states that medical professionals who perform abortions will not be prosecuted for terminating a pregnancy, provided the woman requested and consented to the treatment.

HB 13-1554 was put in place specifically in order to create new offenses concerning unlawful termination of a pregnancy. Without the above-mentioned additions, the bill would ban abortions by criminalizing the professionals who perform them. Medical professionals are not exempt from prosecution if a woman dies during the procedure. The legislation solely exempts healthcare professionals from charges regarding taking the life of a fetus when performing a legal abortion. Therefore, the claim that HB 13-1154 “eliminates criminal liabilities for abortionists who kill women during an abortion” is entirely false.

As little as a $2000 Fine

The final claim to be addressed is that “drunk drivers like the one who is responsible for Brady’s death could have as little as a $2,000 fine.” The statement is derived from HB 13-1154, section “18.3.5-108. Aggravated vehicular unlawful termination of pregnancy.” Under this section, the bill defines “Aggravated vehicular unlawful termination of pregnancy” as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causing the unlawful death of an unborn child.

This offense is defined as a class 4 felony under the same section. By Colorado law, a class 4 felony is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison and a fine of $2,000 to $500,000.

A series of crimes fall under class 4 felonies in Colorado, from sexual assault to second degree arson to aggravated motor vehicle theft. On top of that, vehicular homicide – when a person recklessly operates or drives a motor vehicle and this conduct is the proximate cause of the death of another person – is defined as a class 4 felony as well. Therefore under current law, the crime is classified the same whether the fatality in a drunk driving accident is a fetus, an adult, or anywhere in between.

It should also be noted that the drunk driver who took the life of Surovik’s unborn child was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and took his own life shortly after the sentencing. The statement is deceptive through implying that the driver received little to no punishment.

The Personhood USA statement “drunk drivers like the one who is responsible for Brady’s death could have as little as a $2,000 fine,” is false.

Summary

The statement as a whole deceives by appealing to the emotions of the reader, subsequently clouding interpretations of the argument. It is entirely false for the website to state that HB 13-1154, the Crimes against Pregnant Women Act, “eliminates criminal liabilities for abortionists who kill women during an abortion” as well as that drunk drivers in similar situations could have “as little as a $2000 fine.” The referenced legislation solely exempts medical professionals from criminal prosecution resulting from the legal termination of a consenting woman’s pregnancy. Claiming that there would be “as little as a $2000 fine” for similar situations is only half of the story. At least two years imprisonment is also required for class 4 felonies, a category which also encompasses a series of other crimes that may be more appropriately dealt with through smaller sentences.

 

Overall, the claim on Personhood USA’s page about Amendment 67 is deceptive and false.

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Explanatory multimedia reporting from CU Boulder journalism students
Personhood USA makes a series of false and deceptive claims about previous legislation