Amendment 48: Laugesen Replies

Recently I replied to an editorial by Colorado Spring’s Gazette that endorsed Amendment 48. Wayne Laugesen, the editorial page editor of the paper, took the time to write a detailed reply, which he graciously allowed me to reproduce below. I will respond in a subsequent post. -Ari Armstrong

Wayne Laugesen: re: “Nobody argues that any fetus is guilty of felony murder, so the comparison is bizarre.”

The point is this: You seem concerned that if an egg is lawfully recognized as a “person,” nobody will be allowed to kill it without landing in prison. A death row inmate is indisputably a “person.” So clearly, we make lawful decisions to kill some “persons.” We may lawfully kill a “person” convicted of first degree murder because the “person” is burdensome to society. We may lawfully kill a “person” who threatens our safety after breaking into our home. We may also lawfully kill a person whose life depends upon a mother’s womb, because that person isn’t independent and may be burdensome to the mother and society. Some may not like this fact of settled law, but it is a fact. The point is that defining a fertilized egg or a mature fetus as a “person” does not preclude someone from lawfully killing that person. If that were the case, we would not be allowed to kill in self defense or to kill murder convicts, simply because they are “persons” by any definition. Ending abortion may well be the intent of 48’s authors, but their intent wouldn’t make it so.

All major, high ranking definitions I can find of “person” and “human” are interchangeable.

Yes, your liver is a human element, but it does not contain all of the components of a complete person. It will never have its own brain, or its own eyes or ears, etc., and it will never be capable of reading and writing and paying taxes. The same cannot be said for a zygote, which is the beginning stage of the life of a “person,” whether the zygote lives a day or continues to mature for 100 years. The life begins at that moment of conception, and it ends at the moment of death. There is not a magical event somewhere in between, convenient as that event might be. Scientifically, a human life is an exact timeline with one beginning and one end. Any theories to the contrary involve an imaginary event at a convenient point on the timeline, and that sounds like religion. Bestowing rights at an arbitrary point on the timeline of life is perfectly logical; bestowing “life” or “personhood,” by contrast, involves superstition. This issue is not really about “person” or “non-person,” the issue is “full rights,” “no rights,” or “limited rights” for some persons but not for all persons. Society does not guarantee all “persons” equal outcomes in life. Society does not protect all “persons” equally.

I think we would agree that a six-month-old fetus is a human with a brain, a mouth, a nose, arms, legs, etc. and etc. Correct? Yet society, knowing those facts, has decided to protect a woman’s right to kill that “person” or “human” or “fetus” or whatever one chooses to call him or her. This has little to do with science, and much to do with the legitimate human practice of allocating rights. If we pretend it’s based in a meaningful scientific distinction, we’re entertaining a convenient fantasy. In truth, it’s based in legitimate practical considerations and the allocation of rights.

That being the case, it’s not important to pretend that a fertilized egg is something other than the first stage in the life of a “human,” and therefore a “person.” I don’t see why it’s a problem to call a person a person, and then decide which persons have rights worth protecting and at what point on the timeline of life those rights deserve a societal defense. This has absolutely nothing to do with religion. Religious leaders and believers can make up the rules as they go. Therefore, any religion is free to define “life” however it chooses, or to decide who has rights and when those rights are endowed. Religions that wish to abuse women, for example, are free to define only men as “persons” and then try to impose their definitions through theocratic rule of law. But science is objective, and scientifically life begins at conception. Our laws, in a constitutional Republic as opposed a theocracy, should use scientifically objective definitions.

You agree with me that a fertilized egg is living and human. And I think we basically agree on most major points in this discussion. The main difference between our positions is the fact that you are using the word “person” to describe a being with a full slate of human rights that society must accept, while maintaining that a human with limited rights is something less than a “person.” That requires you, therefore, to argue that a death row inmate is not a “person,” and a predator shot by a victim is not a “person.” After all, these humans do not have the same rights to live as other humans do.

I, by contrast, am using the word “person” to describe a “human” at any stage of development, acknowledging that society does not treat all “persons” equally, it cannot, it never has and it never will. Again, scientifically speaking a sprouting acorn is biologically an oak. That does not mean it’s due all the protection of a giant shade tree. Likewise, I understand that society will never protect a day-old zygote the way it protects a member of Congress. If we look at this issue through a lens of reproductive politics and sociopolitical practicality, Amendment 48 is a menace. If we look at it through a lens of incorporating truthful, logical, scientific, objective definitions into law, it seems like a reasonable proposition. And I know you don’t believe that it negates Roe v. Wade. I’m equally certain that you understand how Roe v. Wade has absolutely no role in Colorado’s abortion laws, which exceed the minimal requirements of Roe v. Wade. Of course, all of this is completely academic as Amendment 48 has never had the slightest chance of passing because it’s not politically viable here. It is, however, a good topic for discovery and discussion. I found your paper on this issue thorough and well written. — Wayne