Human Eggs v. Colorado

If you happen to be a Coloradan planning to vote in November 2008, prepare yourself not only to select a presidential candidate, but also to consider an issue that concerns even more ill-defined beings. Perhaps you aren't quite sure what sort of people the presidential candidates are, are not convinced that Hillary means what she says or that Guiliani's screws are sufficiently tight. But what if you were asked to vote on behalf of beings you weren't even convinced were people at all?

A proposed amendment to the Colorado Constitution would provide that the protection of inalienable rights, due process and the equality of justice as defined by the Colorado Constitution be extended to "any human being from the moment of fertilization." We're not just talking fetuses, mind you --we're also talking about their frozen, pre-fetal and, as the bill's proponents would frame it, equally unprotected yet valuable younger brethren.

Before this amendment shows up on the ballot, it must first clear several legal hurdles, including garnering sufficient signatures. But if it does make it, and if it then passes, folks like me, people with a cache of frozen embryos leftover from infertility treatments, could start dragging their little darlings, and the legal issues that arise from mistreating (e.g., ignoring, experimenting upon or dumping) those cell clumps, through the Colorado courts.

According to Toni Panetta, the deputy director of Naral Pro-Choice Colorado, "All fertilized eggs could use the courts, and that lays the foundation for a potential onslaught." She warned that the proposed amendment's sweeping language could even open up challenges to those birth control methods that make the uterine wall inhospitable to the developing egg. After all, a juicy, primed uterus must surely qualify as Egg Inalienable Right numero uno.

Supporters of the proposal say that its virtue lies in its simplicity. The proposal asks voters to engage the profound philosophical and moral question of when exactly does life begin. It asks them not to tick off vaguely familiar names of would-be commissioners of the local water reclamation district, or to vote yes on a tax to raise money to upgrade a post office, but to make a decision on when they believe life begins and, having defined that, what sorts of legal rights should follow.

Michael J. Norton, a lawyer representing supporters of the proposal, said, "The whole issue centers on when does life begin... Whatever rights and liberties and duties and responsibilities are guaranteed under the Constitution or other state laws would flow to that life." He said that while the actual word "abortion" does not appear in the proposal's language, its passage would make an abortion "the destruction of a person" and therefore illegal.

But those of us who recognize that these sorts of proposals are Trojan horses brimming with all sorts of reproductive rights challenges should work to combat such measures, lest we lose control over not only our bodies, but over the undifferentiated potential ones contained within our supplies of frozen eggs.