Thursday, October 30, 2008

Colorado's "Personhood" Amendment

NPR reported yesterday that Colorado's ballot includes a measure that would amend the state constitution to define "personhood" as beginning at the moment of conception.  The ballot language is here.  (Colorado is the only one of several states where similar measures were proposed to gain enough signatures to put this on the ballot.)

If this should pass, the state constitutional amendment would raise serious federal constitutional questions, to say nothing of the many practical questions.  From NPR's report:

Jessica Berg, a professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University, says the amendment could lead to some bizarre situations--such as counting fertilized eggs in the state census and pregnant drivers using the HOV lanes.

The measure has received some surprise opposition.  The Colorado Catholic Conference opposes it, because it fears a backlash from the courts:  Courts would strike down the measure and, in the process, reaffirm current abortion laws.  Perhaps the Conference remembers the result of Colorado's last effort to curtail federal constitutional rights by state constitutional amendment: Romer v. Evans.


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The consequences of Amendment 48 for HOV lanes are -- or should be -- totally beside the point. Instead, ponder some more significant effects of the measure, if passed and implemented:

* Amendment 48 would make abortion first-degree murder, except perhaps to save the woman's life. First-degree murder is defined in Colorado law as deliberately causing the death of a "person," a crime punished by life in prison or the death penalty. So women and their doctors would be punished with the severest possible penalty under law for terminating a pregnancy -- even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity.

* Amendment 48 would ban any form of birth control that might sometimes prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus -- including the birth control pill, morning-after pill, and IUD. The result would be many more unintended pregnancies and unwanted children in Colorado.

* Amendment 48 would ban in vitro fertilization because the process usually creates more fertilized eggs than can be safely implanted in the womb. So every year, hundreds of Colorado couples would be denied the joy of a child of their own.

Amendment 48 has very sharp teeth. Yet such consequences seem to be of little concern to the advocates of Amendment 48. They think that the men and women of Colorado should be forced to sacrifice for the sake these new "persons" in the womb.

So we must ask: Is a fertilized egg a human person with a right to life? The only rational answer is "NO."

An embryo or fetus is wholly dependent on the woman for its basic life-functions. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as an extension of her body, contained within and dependent on her for its survival. It is only a potential person, not an actual person.

That situation changes radically at birth. The newborn baby exists as a distinct organism, separate from his mother. Although still very needy, he lives his own life. He is a person, and his life must be protected as a matter of right.

So when a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy she does not violate the rights of any person. Instead, she is properly exercising her own rights over her own body in pursuit of her own happiness.

For more information, visit:

For a detailed analysis, see the issue paper "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person" by Ari Armstrong and myself. It's available at:

The sad fact is that Amendment 48 is based on sectarian religious dogma, not objective science or philosophy. It poses a very real threat to the lives, health, and happiness of the people of Colorado.

Diana Hsieh
Founder, Coalition for Secular Government

Posted by: Diana Hsieh | Oct 31, 2008 4:27:51 PM

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