Woodliff-Stanley: Personhood amendment: ‘No’ means ‘No’
Ryan Summerlin September 8, 2012
Apparently, this year’s attempt to end abortion in Colorado by giving fertilized eggs the legal rights of fully-developed persons has fallen short by about 4,000 petition signatures. Supporters of this “personhood” amendment say they will challenge that ruling in court, so there is still a chance the amendment will show up on the ballot.
If it does, it won’t win. Colorado voters have already said, “No!” twice, rejecting “personhood” amendments by wide margins. Even voters in Mississippi rejected a similar proposal last year. But its supporters are unlikely to give up. As dangerous and absurd as this idea may be, it will keep slinking around the nation looking for a place to take root. It has already found a place in national politics, and it will take many more rejections to put this idea to rest.
The first version of the “personhood” amendment in 2008 would have added just 34 words to the Colorado constitution, defining the term “person” to mean “any human being from the moment of fertilization.” The latest version of the amendment has ballooned to well over 200 words, attempting (and largely failing) to address many problems with the concept.
In the current version, personhood applies “at any stage of development,” which is even more scientifically vague, although it undoubtedly includes fertilized human eggs. In-vitro fertilization that doesn’t use every embryo and many forms of birth control would still be defined as killing a person, so it doesn’t help to say they aren’t affected unless a person is killed. Miscarriages could still be investigated to make sure they were not “intentional,” and health care for pregnant women would still be at risk even with attempted exceptions, because the presence of another legal “person” would override health threats to the woman unless they are clearly “life-threatening.” Frozen embryos could still inherit property, and there would still be arguments around dependent tax deductions and population statistics.
Anyone having or performing an abortion would be defined as a murderer, possibly subject to the death penalty. After all, the amendment only prohibits killing a person who is “innocent.” And the proposed amendment is very clear that there would be no exceptions for rape or incest. For the “innocent” fetus, rape is just another “method of creation” in the language of this amendment. Women or girls who are raped would have no choice but to bear the child of their rapist. Even “morning after” pills would be treated as possible murder.
Despite personhood claims, early and late abortions are simply not the same thing. I have problems with an absolute ban even on late abortions, because they are necessary in unusual circumstances, but they should be – and are – very rare. There is at least a debate to be had about the significance of early signs of consciousness starting around the time of viability, but despite unscientific claims to the contrary, there is no fetal suffering at stake in early abortion. There is, however, plenty of suffering at stake in a world of forced child-bearing.
Equating personhood with even a bit of DNA only demeans the notion of personhood, not to mention the legal nightmare it would create. Denying women control over their own bodies, whether raped or not, only demeans the personhood of women. If “personhood” makes it back on the ballot, we need to make clear once again that “No!” means “No!”
The Rev. Nathan Woodliff-Stanley is chair of the Public Policy Commission of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, and he will preach monthly at the High Country Unitarian Universalist Fellowship beginning today.