May 302008
A new threat to a woman’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness has arrived out here in the West. And it’s going straight for the jugular. Groups in Colorado and Montana believe they’re on a mission from God: to get voters to pass state Constitutional amendments defining “personhood” as beginning with fertilization. Under these amendments, full rights and equal protection under the law would be granted–not to a human being from the moment of birth–but to a fertilized egg.

But the country shouldn’t dismiss this lunacy as a bunch of “wild west hooey.” While similar efforts since 2005 in Georgia, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin and Mississippi have fizzled, advocates vow to not give up on redefining “personhood” in their image.

This utter perversion of the “right to life” is a mockery of the principle of liberty established by our Founding Fathers. It will create an inherent and irreconcilable conflict between the individual rights of a living person and a single-celled product of conception.

Groups pursuing “personhood” amendments use a simplistic combination of religious belief and scientific fact to advance their agenda. The Thomas More Law Center, which provides legal support for these organizations, calls itself “the sword and shield for people of (Christian) faith” to fight for Christian values, which it claims is the foundation of our nation. Kristi Burton, the founder of Colorado’s group (which just succeeded in being first in the country to get the proposal on the November ballot), was quoted as “….we have God. And he is all we need.” A religious supporter of Montana’s initiative finds her “proof” in Psalm 139:13, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

These groups conveniently usurp the facts of human embryology in making their case for “personhood.” But the biological reality that life begins developing at conception is totally irrelevant in terms of rights.

Our Constitutional rights as citizens apply only once we are born as separate entities. To quote Ayn Rand, a 20th century novelist and philosopher, “Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).”

If a barbaric “personhood” amendment passes in some state, whose rights will prevail when a woman has a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy? Will a girl who’s been raped be compelled against her will to carry a pregnancy resulting from that brutality? Will lawyers defending fertilized eggs argue that a miscarriage is a violation of an embryo’s right to life, making a woman and her physician legally negligent?

Our hard-fought scientific and political achievements in controlling fertility will revert back to the horse-and-buggy era. Many reliable birth control methods would have to be outlawed because they interfere with implantation of a fertilized egg. Couples unable to conceive would be forbidden to try in-vitro fertilization because some of the lab-created fertilized eggs are not used.

“Personhood” advocates brag about going for the gold: the outright overturn of Roe v Wade. They think they are being clever by passing in just one state a “personhood” amendment that will ultimately challenge the “loophole” in the 1973 majority opinion of Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. He wrote: “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed…”

Traditional religious-right groups have tried for decades to outlaw abortion by the piecemeal evisceration of that fundamental right. But if a tyrannical majority of voters in Colorado or Montana approves a Constitutional amendment redefining the human being according to particular religious beliefs, it will be a milestone in tearing down the wall of separation between church and state.

Our freedoms, based fundamentally on the right to life, mean that we as individuals have the right to pursue life-sustaining goals–including decisions about pregnancy. But the particular freedom of religion does not mean the right to pass laws forcing citizens to live by biblical values.

“Personhood” advocates have corrupted the principle, “right to life,” and they’re exploiting their freedom of religion do it. Constitutional rights protect all of our liberties from the moment we’re born as separate individuals. And this is what we must zealously fight to preserve.

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