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Maverick for Life

How a young Republican got a pro-life referendum on the ballot in Colorado.

7:00 PM, Sep 1, 2008 • By FRED BARNES
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St. Paul

KRISTI BURTON IS a maverick, but not quite in the same way as John McCain. She's a 21-year-old delegate to the Republican convention from Colorado with a large accomplishment to her credit. Almost singlehandedly, Burton got a referendum on the Colorado ballot this fall that declares that life begins at conception.

Burton collected more than 130,000 signatures (76,047 were required) and warded off three legal challenges by a phalanx of pro-abortion organizations to get her referendum approved. It consists of one sentence that says in Colorado law "the term person or persons shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization."

If passed by voters, her initiative--its official name is Amendment 48--would mean an unborn child in Colorado would be protected from being aborted. Whether the courts, following the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, would allow it is another story.

Like McCain, Burton has clashed with members of her own party. As you might guess, her referendum is controversial--especially among Republicans. The fear among some of them is that it may hurt Republican candidates, notably pro-life Senate candidate Bob Schaffer. How? By driving away suburban women voters who might otherwise vote for Schaffer and other Republicans. That's the fear anyway.

Burton disagrees, arguing the amendment will attract more voters to the polls and help anti-abortion candidates like Schaffer. Republicans at the Colorado Republican convention in June sided with her. She was the seventh biggest vote-getter for 24 delegate slots.

"Well-meaning pro-lifers can disagree on timing and strategy," she says. "We believe it's always the right time" to raise the abortion issue. "It's a moral issue. It's pointless to wait. There's never a perfect time. So do it now."

She says she's "never not been" a pro-lifer. And though she's an active Christian who attends a non-denominational church, Burton insists her faith is not the only reason she opposes abortion. "I try to act on my beliefs. I'd be pro-life regardless of my religious beliefs. Medicine and science prove that at the moment of conception, it's a unique individual."

Burton lives in a small town outside Colorado Springs. She grew interested in politics in 2000. "I watched President Bush's election and it interested me," she told me. "I really believed in what President Bush stood for." She also noticed a pro-life amendment on the Colorado ballot that year. It lost.

Two years ago, she decided it was "time to get busy." She founded a group called Colorado for Equal Rights and got a lawyer friend to draft the language of her amendment. When she submitted it for approval by state officials, pro-choice groups claimed it violated the requirement limiting a referendum to one subject. They lost. "It's one sentence," Burton says. "Please!"

She had six months to collect signatures on a petition. Burton and her supporters mailed petitions to churches all over the state that had backed a successful amendment in 2006 defining marriage as between a man and a woman. She traveled to 80 percent of the state's counties and recruited, she says, 1,300 petition circulators.

Burton and Colorado for Equal Rights lack funds for TV ads to promote Amendment 48 this fall, ads that could make it stand out from the cluster of as many as 19 initiatives on the ballot. But it has benefited from media attention and may be helped by its position as the third amendment on the ballot.

Whether her amendment succeeds or not, it's not likely to be her last pro-life effort. She's now studying law at Oak Brook College of Law, what's known as a "distance learning" school.
That means the courses are on the Internet, with only occasional appearances at the school's California location required.

"I don't want to practice law," she says, "but I want to be involved in pro-life issues." At some point, she'd like to work on broader issues of human rights but not yet. "It's just that right now the unborn child doesn't have a voice." But Burton, at 21, has a big one.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.