Reply to Kristi Burton on Amendment 48

On September 19, the Pagosa Daily Post published an op/ed by Kristi Burton favoring Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado’s Constitution. Today The Denver Post published the same piece.

The Pagosa paper published my reply on September 23. Given the wide distribution of Burton’s article via the Post, my reply is timely:

Amendment 48 Smoke Screen

Ari Armstrong

Kristi Burton tries to hide Amendment 48 behind a cloud of smoke in her September 19 Post opinion article. The measure would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado’s constitution.

Burton’s claim that Amendment 48 “doesn’t change the constitution in any way” is dishonest. It would add a new section to the state constitution:

“As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.”

The related provisions pertain to the rights to life, liberty, equality of justice, and due process of law.

The constitution guides interpretation of statutes. For example, existing statutes define first-degree murder as deliberately causing the death of a “person,” resulting in life in prison or the death penalty. Burton has never indicated what criminal penalties she wants for abortion.

At least Burton acknowledges she wants to outlaw “abortion on demand.” However, she does not admit the full legal ramifications of Amendment 48 if implemented. Women would be forced to carry to term pregnancies even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity. Women suspected of purposely inducing a miscarriage might be subject to criminal investigation.

Burton claims, “Mothers also possess personhood and the amendment in no way endangers their well-being.” However, if a fertilized egg is a person, then the life of a fertilized egg must be balanced against the life of the woman, with details to be decided by the courts.

Nor does Burton discuss the impact of Amendment 48 on birth control, fertility treatments, and medical research. The popular birth control pill and other types may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Fertility treatments help hundreds of Colorado women become pregnant every year, but those treatments regularly involve the destruction or freezing of fertilized eggs. Amendment 48 would ban those forms of birth control and fertility treatments.

The facts are these: a fertilized egg, as it develops into an embryo and fetus, is wholly contained within the woman’s body and completely dependent on the woman’s body for sustenance. This is radically different from a born child, which, while still very needy, can eat and breathe using its own organs and leave its mother to be cared for by somebody else. Thus, personhood begins at birth. A pregnant woman has the right to liberty, including the right to get an abortion.

The same facts show Burton is also wrong in tying abortion to “taking away the lives and dignity of the elderly, sick and disabled.” While a fertilized egg is not a person, the elderly, sick, and disabled are people.

Burton rightly criticizes the view that “each person decides” when personhood begins. That is why Burton is wrong to arbitrarily declare that a fertilized egg is a person, when the biological facts show otherwise.

For a more detailed description of the harms of the measure, see “Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life” at the Secular Government website.

The Post also published a piece by L. Indra Lusero and Lynn M. Paltrow critical of the measure. They offer two concrete examples:

For example, in Washington, D.C., doctors sought a court order to force Ayesha Madyun to have a C-section, claiming the fetus faced a 50 to 75 percent chance of infection if not delivered surgically. The court said, “All that stood between the Madyun fetus and its independent existence, separate from its mother, was — put simply — a doctor’s scalpel.” With that, the court granted the order. When the procedure was done, there was no evidence of infection.

In Florida, Laura Pemberton wanted to have a vaginal birth after a previous C-section. Her doctors believed that her fetus had a right to be born by a C-section. A sheriff came to her house, took her into custody while she was in active labor, strapped her legs together and forced her to go to a hospital, where they were holding a hearing about the rights of the fetus. A lawyer was appointed for her fetus but not for her. She was forced to have a C-section. Pemberton subsequently gave birth vaginally to four more children, defying the medical and court predictions of harm.

On September 23, the Rocky Mountain News also published a good letter by Dr. Thomas W. Moffatt opposed to Amendment 48:

As a Catholic and retired pro-life obstetrician, I am very concerned about Amendment 48. I am concerned, in a pluralistic, democratic society, about imposing my religious beliefs on another. There is, then, nothing to stop others from imposing their beliefs on me. But from a purely medical and pro-life point of view, how can I impose my beliefs on another to the point that women can and will die?

I have been faced with situations in my years of practice in which I had to decide if one person or two would die. Two prime examples are ectopic – or tubal – pregnancies, and infected pregnancies. Must we now allow a woman to die if she is hemorrhaging from a ruptured fallopian tube? Should both the mother and child die in the case of an infected pregnancy, which often, sadly, occurs in the middle trimester?

Will a physician, in saving a woman’s life, be subject to criminal prosecution? We know some prosecutor will, eventually, try to make a name for himself by charging a physician with manslaughter or worse.

Amendment 48 must be defeated, along with its possible future stepchildren.