Why citizen initiatives are often bad ideas

Before I get too ramped up on this, I just want to explain something. I'm not totally opposed to the initiative process, and at one time (before I lived in a state that used it regularly), I was quite in love with it. Then I got hold of my first California voters guide alongside my San Francisco voter's guide, and I saw the chance for mischief first hand.

And now Colorado looks like they'll get to have their fun as well.

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Supreme Court cleared the way Tuesday for an anti-abortion group to collect signatures for a ballot measure that would define a fertilized egg as a person.

Think either the people who wrote this law or who will be its most ardent supporters understand that 40-60% of fertilized eggs never implant, and are washed away in a woman's period? Not likely, but they're getting to try to make a new law here--a completely unenforceable law, mind you--that will make a woman having her period and releasing a fertilized egg guilty of murder?

That's not the purpose of the law, of course--the purpose is to stop abortion and stem cell research by calling a fertilized egg something it isn't. It makes about as much sense as passing an initiative to make pi equal to 4--it won't change the real world and it'll make you look pretty stupid in the meantime.

Let's start asking some what-if's here. If a fertilized egg is a human and is born, how does that affect the date it comes of age? And will the birth certificates of children conceived outside the state of Colorado be backdated if they move into the state in order to fit within the state's idea of the beginning of life? Will women who miscarry be investigated for negligent homicide? Or perhaps murder? Will Colorado institute a vagina police force, designated to ensure that the rights of all those little blastocysts are being protected? These are not silly questions--okay, they are silly questions, but only because they're in response to a very silly law, suggested by a very silly group of people.

Laws like this tend to fail in state legislatures because legislators are busy with other stuff, esoteric stuff like millage proposals and traffic studies and being arrested in a mens room trying to pay an undercover cop to blow him. Okay, that last one doesn't happen so often. They rarely have time to write laws that are this mind-bendingly stupid. They still manage, sometimes, but not as often as citizens groups do, because citizens groups don't have to think about the larger picture. There's only their one small slice, their issue, and screw the rest. And this one is a doozy.

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