The following article originally was published August 18, 2008, in Grand Junction’s Free Press.
Amendment 48 would harm actual people
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
We used to be on opposite sides of the abortion issue. Linn has long held that it should be legal, while Ari once thought that it should not. Now we agree that Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in the state constitution, is a horrible idea that would result in death, misery, and lost liberty for actual people.
Many years ago, we went to a local event to hear one of the lawyers involved in the Roe v. Wade decision on the legalization side. During the questions, someone in the audience harshly condemned the lawyer for aiding in the murder of babies. The lawyer fired back that science, the Supreme Court, and most people rejected his claim. We left the event where we entered it: on different sides of the issue. This would have been before Norma McCorvey, “Jane Roe,” converted to Christianity and opposed abortion.
Around that time, Ari even wrote a letter to a local paper (that we can’t find now) pointing out a seeming paradox with the legalization side. As far as we recall, some criminal had harmed a woman, resulting in the death of her fetus. If a fetus is not a person, Ari reasoned, why should we care whether a criminal harms it? It was a pretty good letter. But its premise was wrong.
Now Ari has worked on a paper criticizing Amendment 48 for the Coalition for Secular Government (SecularGovernment.us) that should be available this week. Here we’ll review some of the highlights.
The first fact that opponents of abortion must confront is that, if a fertilized egg should have all the same legal rights as a born infant, that implies that criminal penalties should apply for abortion. Notably, current statutes define first-degree murder as killing a person “after deliberation and with the intent to cause the death of a person.” Surely that describes abortion, if a fertilized egg is a person.
The penalty? Under current statute, the penalty for first-degree murder is life in prison or the death penalty. One Denver minister has openly advocated the death penalty for women who get abortions. If you oppose abortion, is that really what you want? If not, what sort of criminal penalty do you have in mind?
Many women get abortions for health concerns. For instance, a small percent of fertilized eggs start to grow in the fallopian tubes rather than in the uterus. These ectopic pregnancies can be fatal. If a fertilized egg is a person, then can doctors perform abortions even if the woman’s life is at risk? Or would doctors be forced to watch their patients endure hours of agony and operate only at the very last minute? Though most pregnancies don’t turn out that way, in some cases Amendment 48 would cause the death of the woman.
But the consequences of Amendment 48 extend far beyond abortion. Many types of birth control would be banned. For example, while the pill usually acts to prevent fertilization, it may also act to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. While the matter would result in lengthy political and legal battles, many opponents of abortion do argue that the pill prevents implantation. Emergency contraception and IUDs also would have to be banned under Amendment 48. The inevitable result would be more unplanned pregnancies.
Fertility clinics also would have to be shut down, because they operate by fertilizing eggs in the lab, then transferring select fertilized eggs into the woman. In 2005, Colorado’s seven fertility clinics helped around 820 women deliver babies. According to advocates of Amendment 48, these pregnancies should be forcibly prohibited. In the name of saving fertilized eggs, the measure would prevent the births of hundreds of babies every year.
A fertilized egg clearly is not the biological equivalent of a born infant. A fertilized egg is microscopic, without any organs or awareness. An older fetus too is dramatically different from a born baby. A fetus is totally contained within the woman and totally dependent on her for oxygen and nutrition. A born baby, while still basically helpless, can breath and eat using its own organs. Though the case can be expanded, that’s the basic reason why an embryo or fetus should not have the same legal standing as a born infant.
What about the case of the criminal who harms a fetus? A woman who learns that she’s pregnant and decides to have the baby is overwhelmingly excited by the pregnancy. She looks forward to delivering a baby and raising a child. The fetus is both a physical and legal extension of the woman. A criminal who harms a woman’s fetus deserves harsh criminal penalties.
Amendment 48 would result in needless death, intrusive police actions over our sexual lives, and the banning of fertility treatments. As the title of the new paper summarizes, the measure is anti-life.