Here is a riddle, but not a joke.
Imagine it is November this year, in Colorado, the day after elections. Amendment 62, the "personhood" Amendment, has just been voted into law.
A woman is considering making love to her husband-- should she first consult an attorney?
Answer: Yes. If she was using birth control pills, she could face criminal charges.
But it is not a joke.
If the Personhood Amendment becomes law, the government would control some of a family's most personal decisions, including:
• For birth control, only "barrier methods" (condoms, etc.) will be legal.
• Embryonic stem cell research would be banned.
• In Vitro Fertility family building would be labeled mass murder.
• A woman's right to choose would be forever denied.
Do I exaggerate? Here is the amendment.
"Section 32. Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the term "person" shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being."
What are they are talking? Fertilized eggs.
When sperm meets egg, a microscopic blastocyst is formed. If the body is ready, the blastocyst implants in the wall of the uterus and pregnancy begins; if not, it flushes out in the woman's monthly cycle. No one mourns; this is natural: there are no funerals for tampons.
But "Personhood" insists every blastocyst--even the unimplanted ones-- shall be given full rights in a court of law: equal to a fully grown human of any age.
Look at just one part of the Colorado state constitution that would be changed.
"Section 25: Due Process of Law. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."
If "person" means fertilized egg, (which it would if Amendment 62 passes), this constitutional clause would essentially say: "No one, including blastocysts, shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."
What is this all about?
"It will ban abortion."
Personhood supporters hope to overturn the Supreme Court's decision on Roe v. Wade, which establishes a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.
They base their hopes on the following quote from that case:
"If this suggestion of personhood is established, (emphasis added) the appellant's case, of course collapses, for the fetus's right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the fourteenth Amendment."
-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, Roe v. Wade decision.
And what does that have to do with birth control pills? More from the website:
"The abortion industry... has redefined the term contraceptive to include poisons ... that cause the early human being to die. These poisons are called abortifacients because they may cause early abortions. ... Barrier methods of contraception (condoms, etc.-dr) that prevent the union of the sperm and the egg will not be outlawed, since neither a sperm nor an egg by itself is a human being."
Condoms would be legal; birth control pills would not. Consider the implications. If a fertilized egg is the same as a full-fledged human, taking birth control pills could be considered a form of abortion. Since (under personhood law) a blastocyst is legally equal to a full-grown human being, abortion at any stage is murder. So could a woman taking birth control pills be put on trial-- for attempted murder? That kind of complicated legal morass would have to be wrestled out in court, a lengthy and expensive waste of the taxpayer's money. It is estimated that as many as 2,000 Colorado laws and procedures could be affected by personhood laws like Amendment 62. Although billed as a pro-life measure, the Amendment could in fact prevent childless couples from having a baby--if it bans the In Vitro Fertility (IVF) procedure.
IVF has brought joy to innumerable families around the world. It is a technical procedure: mixing sperm and egg in a saltwater-filled Petri dish. About twenty blastocysts are made; the strongest one or two (the ones most likely to survive) are implanted in the mother's womb. And the others? The unimplanted blastocysts are frozen and stored (at a continuing monthly expense), or donated for "adoption," (allowable, but rare: most couples prefer to make their own), donated for cure research--or thrown away.
Would the IVF procedure be banned under personhood law?
Personhood supporters first say no--but then go on to describe it as "mass extermination of human beings."
Here are their words:
"The Colorado Personhood Amendment would not prohibit in vitro fertilization, instead it would force medical scientists to come up with ethical alternatives to the mass production and mass extermination of human beings at the hands of fertility clinics."
If (as claimed) IVF clinics are truly guilty of "mass extermination of human beings," of course the procedure would be prohibited. And if IVF is judged to be murder, then not only clinics, but also doctors, nurses, and millions of parents around the world would be complicit in the "crime."
And what about those forced "ethical alternatives?"
Since under "personhood" every blastocyst must be protected, would they require that every blastocyst created be implanted? That was exactly what the "octomom" insisted upon-- by which she ended up with fourteen children.
"Personhood" supporters do not seem concerned about the real-life consequences of their legislation, nor the millions of full-grown people who could be hurt.
People like my paralyzed son.
In 1994, while playing college football, Roman Reed incurred a spinal cord injury, and became paralyzed from the shoulders down.
California passed a law named after him: the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999, source of the first state-funded embryonic stem cell research in America. Using the Bush-approved embryonic stem cell lines, a scientist was able to "remyelinate" (restore natural insulation to) damaged spinal nerves.
On March 1, 2002, in the University of California at Irvine, I held in my hands a laboratory rat which had been paralyzed, but which now could scamper around its play area.
This Autumn, if all goes well, that embryonic stem cell experiment will go forward to human trials, the first in the world. Eight to ten newly-paralyzed men and women will be offered the chance my son did not get, a way to alleviate the scourge of paralysis.
It is only a first step, not the ultimate cure: but it is real, and it is hope.
But it could be forever denied if "personhood" laws prevail, and the rights of cells in a dish are given precedence over my paralyzed son. Every family deserves the best medical treatment science can provide.
What impact will Amendment 62 have on research for cure? Again, the website:
"It will ban human embryonic stem cell research...Human embryonic stem cell research is nothing more than human harvesting...the creation and destruction of human beings for medical experimentation."
This is, of course, nonsense.
Stem cell research, as the name implies, is about cells. It involves living tissue, not a life: blastocysts in a petri dish (or on a microscope slide) are not children.
To prove this, we need only ask ourselves: can any blastocyst become a baby-- without the nurturing shelter of the mother's womb?
Without the protection of the uterus, there can be neither pregnancy, nor babies.
No mother, no child--this is not rocket science.
Sadly, "Personhood" believers are working hard to put their laws on the ballot, not just in Colorado, but in many states.
Certain politicians are trying to gain political mileage by supporting personhood efforts. They seem to believe this will gain them points with the pro-life community. They might be surprised.
How do leading pro-life groups feel about the "personhood" movement?
Major right to life groups appear to regard the "personhood" attempt as so extreme, it would be damaging to their goals.
To the best of my knowledge, the personhood movement is NOT supported by the Catholic Church, the National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, nor the Eagle Forum.
I believe the vast majority of people who study Amendment 62 will find it complicated, dangerous, occasionally ridiculous--and something we have seen before.
This is virtually the identical bill Coloradans overwhelmingly rejected (73% opposed) in 2008. A few words have been changed; the 2008 version said "from the moment of fertilization," whereas the 2010 version says "from the beginning of biological development."
Other than that, and especially in terms of its planned impact, the two bills are exactly the same.
It is to be hoped that Coloradans will "Remember in November!" and repeat its wise decision: to resoundingly reject Amendment 62, the "Personhood" Amendment.