Voters to decide if fertilized human egg is a person
Tuesday July 15th 2008
US: A Colorado ballot, if passed, would give fertilised eggs the same legal rights and protections as people, writes Ashley Surdin in Los Angeles
A PROPOSAL to define a fertilised human egg as a person will feature in a referendum in Colorado this November, marking the first time the question of when life begins will go before voters in the US.
The Human Life Amendment, also known as the personhood amendment, says the words "person" or "persons" in the state constitution should "include any human being from the moment of fertilisation".
If voters agreed, legal experts say, it would give fertilised eggs the same legal rights and protections to which people are entitled.
The initiative is funded by Colorado for Equal Rights, a grass-roots anti-abortion organisation. Its purpose, initiative sponsor Kristi Burton said, is to lay a legal and legislative basis for protecting the unborn. Its passage would also open the door to modifying other laws for the same purpose, she said.
As to what laws could then be modified, Burton would not elaborate. "We try not to focus on some of the issues that will be taken care of later on," she said, repeatedly saying that the amendment is not aimed at outlawing abortion.
But that is the objective, according to one of the measure's biggest supporters, Colorado Right to Life. "The goal is to restore legal protection to preborn babies from the moment they are conceived, which is the only way we're going to stop abortion," said Leslie Hanks, group vice-president.
Critics say the aim is not just to outlaw abortion in Colorado but ultimately to overturn Roe v Wade by igniting a court battle that would bring the issue to the US Supreme Court, where, proponents of the measure hope, a conservative majority would strike down the 1973 decision that legalised abortion nationwide.
And the amendment carries broader implications, critics say, such as limiting medical research involving embryos, inviting intrusive government oversight of pregnancies, and banning certain contraception, including the morning-after pill and the intrauterine device, or IUD.
"If we give fertilised eggs legal rights, abortion could be considered murder and a woman could be sent to jail for making the difficult life decision to terminate a pregnancy," said Crystal Clinkenbeard, spokeswoman for Protect Families, Protect Choice, a coalition of medical professionals, community groups and religious leaders who oppose the amendment.
The measure also could expand the reach of the law into other arenas, legal experts say. For instance, if a woman miscarries, she could be held responsible if it were found she caused it, even unintentionally. If she smoked or drank while pregnant, her behaviour might be considered negligent. Damaged eggs might be eligible for monetary damages.
The use of fertilised eggs at fertility clinics or in medical research labs would come into question because the disposal of unused eggs could be considered homicide. "Because this amendment would define a person in a given way and expand the universe of who persons are, it expands the reach of laws that deal with persons," said Bill Araiza, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles.
The amendment also calls into question pregnant women's medical access, said Scott Moss, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School.
"If a pregnant woman is really two people with exactly equal rights, then it is not clear the pregnant woman can undergo any medical treatment that jeopardises a fertilised egg," he said, adding that the amendment would generate a flood of litigation.
Colorado is the first state to succeed in putting this particular question to voters, but several others have tried to recognise fertilised eggs as persons through ballot initiatives or legislation.
"Even though the success wasn't immediate, this battle isn't over," said Robert Muise, a lawyer with the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Centre, a Christian public interest firm that has drafted language for efforts in Oregon, Montana and Georgia. - ( LA Times-Washington Post service )