Monday, October 06, 2008

Who Is A Person--Legally?

On the Colorado ballot this time around is Amendment 48, sometimes called the “Personhood Amendment.” It is a very simple amendment, stating that in all the appropriate places in the Colorado Constitution, the term “person” or “persons” shall apply to any human being from the moment of fertilization. Clearly, this will have profound consequences on the pro-life/pro-choice debate, and once it is given some thought, some possibly radical legal and legislative consequences.

This amendment gets right to the heart of the pro-life issue. Not too many people argue anymore that what is in the womb of a human mother is not biologically human or potentially human. Because the DNA evidence is insurmountable, the debate has now largely moved to the social or legal status of the fetus/embryo/zygote in terms of whether it is a person with all the rights and privileges thereof, or not.

Most pro-life positions contend that what is in the womb is “human” in the sense that it ought to bear all the social and legal rights we grant all out of the womb humans. What is in the womb is human life, the deliberate taking of innocent life is always murder, and therefore, the deliberate taking of innocent life in the womb is murder. Probably not too many people will argue with parts two and three of the preceding sentence, so it is part one that is at stake.

Amendment 48 will, at least legally, answer that issue.

Should a pro-lifer vote for it? My short answer is “yes.” If you are pro-life in the sense outlined above, this amendment is a legislative move totally in concert with your philosophical and theological convictions. It is not an overreaching religious belief because it does not make any explicit religious appeal, and can be defended on totally non-religious grounds. Thus it does not breech any serious worry of the separation of church and state. (For the record, I find that concern highly suspect anyway.)

Many worry about its passage because some of the ramifications of this amendment could be far-reaching and even radical. Will the state then need to prosecute both mothers and doctors for murder? Will Planned Parenthood become an “illegal” organization? Will pharmacies which distribute abortion inducing birth control be complicit in murder? Some argue that Amendment 48 is unwise because of these potential consequences. But is that a valid concern?

In general, if a law is in right relationship with reality, it should be enacted. Even if it causes us pain as we grow accustomed to it, truth is more important than practicality. Take, for example, a world where a product called, “Kansas-Style Whole Grain Bread,” is lethal. This bread is unusually tasty and even very cheap to purchase. Families have been feeding it to their kids for years, and though there have been worries that childhood mortality rates may be connected with the bread, it has not been proven until now. It is in the state’s best interest that families and kids are protected from this nefarious whole grain bread, but to enact legislation outlawing it would be devastating to many sectors of the economy. It is worried that family farms will go under, bankruptcies will increase to a level that will threaten local banks, employment will tank as distributors and grocery stores quit selling the popular product. We can imagine a world where the ramifications are broad and even painful, but we probably consider the legislation more important than the consequences.

Secondly, I don’t have to answer all the potential consequences before I take a principled stand on an issue. I may not be able, for example, to detail all the economic ramifications of outlawing gambling in Las Vegas, but I can be totally rational coming up with a good argument saying it should be outlawed. Likewise, proponents of Amendment 48 do not need to detail exactly how all the laws regarding murder will work in the future in order to support the amendment.

In fact, if one is deeply concerned about murder laws now applying to abortion cases, they need only to look at the some two-thirds of U.S. states that already have fetal murder laws on the books. It is the case in most states that if you are careless behind the wheel and hit a pregnant woman, killing both her and the unborn child within her, you can be guilty for double homicide. How vastly different would these new laws in Colorado be if Amendment 48 is passed?

This amendment is a big one. It potentially carries a huge package of philosophical dynamite, but sometimes existing structures need to be brought to the ground.

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