A recent debate about Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado’s constitution, pit the obfuscater against the appeaser, as a story by David Montero of the Rocky Mountain News makes clear. We begin with Kristi Burton, the measure’s sponsor:
She criticized those who argue that her amendment would create a legal morass because the word “person” appears in more than 20,000 state statutes.
“A definition doesn’t have that power,” she said. “A definition lays down the foundation . . . but it doesn’t guarantee any particular result.”
Yet Burton has made clear that her intention with Amendment 48 is to ban abortion except to save the life of the woman. So clearly she does think that a mere definition — in reality a fundamental change in the state constitution — can “have that power,” contingent on federal changes.
If Amendment 48 can ban abortion based on the legal fiction that a fertilized egg is a person, then it can also do all the other things that Diana Hsieh and I outline in our paper, Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life.” It can ban the birth control pill and other forms of birth control that can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. It can ban fertility treatments that often involve the destruction or freezing of fertilized eggs. It can ban medical research involving fertilized eggs. And it can subject women and their doctors to criminal prosecution for obtaining an abortion or intentionally causing a miscarriage. These are not merely hypothetical scare stories; they are logical implications. True, the amendment may not be consistently interpreted or enforced, and its implementation depends on federal changes, as Diana and I write in the paper, but if the measure is implemented those other consequences naturally follow.
Against Burton, Pat Steadman said, “I think it’s hard to imagine there not being unintended consequences.” That response is pathetic. First, the consequence that even Burton openly advocates — a near-complete ban on abortion — is horrific. It would massively violate the rights of women of reproductive age, along with their partners and doctors, and it would lead to police-state controls. It would force women to bring to term pregnancies even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and health risks — that is, when the health risks did not cause the woman to die first.
Second, the other consequences that Diana and I outline are fully intended and openly stated by the honest advocates of Amendment 48. Various members of the religious right openly call for bans on the pill, bans on select medical research, and severe criminal penalties — including the death penalty — for women who get abortions. It is true that Amendment 48 would have many other consequences that are unintended, but it is evil precisely because of what its backers intend.
Burton also continued her unsubstantiated assertions that a fertilized egg is a person. Montero begins, “Science now knows that life begins at the moment of conception, the initiator of the Personhood Amendment told an audience of 30 at the University of Denver Thursday night.” Yet life does not begin at conception; it precedes conception.
Burton claimed “that medical science tells us that when an egg is fertilized at conception, a human being has been created.” Yet as Diana and I write in the paper, Burton relies on an equivocation on the term “human being” to fudge her case. A fertilized egg is human, in the sense that it contains human DNA, and it is a potential person, but it is not an actual person. But Burton is not interested in promoting honest debate or answering her critics. Hers is an agenda of religious faith, and the facts be damned.