I’m betting most of you have heard that Leslee Unruh is taking another crack at effectively outlawing abortion in South Dakota. But only very recently did I hear about a ballot initiative in Colorado that’s equally loony. Julie at A Little Bit Pregnant describes it thus:
Next month Coloradoans will vote on whether to amend their state Constitution “to include the pre-born from the moment of fertilization as having their ‘personhood’ clearly established.”
This description comes from Colorado for Equal Rights, the force behind proposed amendment 48, “Equal Rights” in this case being as much of a creepy buzzwordy misnomer as “pre-born.” The thrust of the measure, say its supporters, is “to define a person in Colorado as a human being from the moment of fertilization.”
Oy. There’s so much wrong with this, and I have so little time. (I’m slowly digging through 80 essays that demand to be graded.) But just for starters:
Your average zygote will not implant, and that sorta puts a crimp in its personhood. At the Berkshire Conference last summer, I learned the following from Lara Friedenfels’ presentation (and this is my paraphrase, not hers):
Of 100 meetings of egg and sperm, 57 never implant (and thus wouldn’t result in a positive test). Of the 43 that do implant, 10 miscarry before a doctor would declare the woman pregnant. … Of the 33 that continue, 4 will miscarry “clinically” and 29 will reach full term (give or take a few weeks).
What does this Colorado initiative plan to do to save those 57 persons who are shed before they ever implant?
Do the backers of this initiative care that implantation, not fertilization, is the medically recognized start of pregnancy?
Have they considered that whether fertilization has occurred is unknowable until sometime after implantation, and thus the existence of such “persons” will be completely speculative until post-implantation?
Are Colorado voters aware that if this measure passes, it won’t just call legal abortion into question, it would lay the groundwork for potentially outlawing many forms of contraception, stem cell research and therapies, and infertility treatments, as Julie points out?
I have no problem granting that life begins at implantation, or even at fertilization. I’ll grant, too, that it’s human. After all, it’s human DNA that starts to replicate, and keeps replicating – barring failure to implant, or miscarriage, or incompatible-with-life developmental anomalies, or the formation of a molar pregnancy … As Lara’s statistics show, this is a precarious process and less than a third of fertilized eggs result in an actual baby. I would never belittle the significance of pregnancy loss, but surely none of us would equate a hydatidiform mole with a person?
Isn’t it possible to grant that the zygote is human and alive, without erasing its very real differences from a social or legal person?
How about if we instead take a developmental perspective and recognize that while an embryo is not nothing, it’s also not a person? It’s a clump of cells with amazing potential that – with some luck, if all goes well – will attain full personhood when it leaves its mother’s body. No more. And no less.