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Sunday, March 9, 2008

"Personhood" Laws Threaten Research, Woman's Rights

Like the 18th Amendment, (Prohibition) which was intended to eliminate alcohol abuse and instead gave us organized crime, some proposed laws may have consequences far beyond their advertising.

For example, suppose we had a 100% Pro-Life Amendment, defining all life as equally deserving of legal protection. That sounds noble, doesn’t it?

But we would starve if it was enforced. Even vegetables have life. Who knows, perhaps even a carrot gives a tiny shriek of agony when being yanked from the soil. Meat, of course, would be out of the question, as animals would have the right to an attorney.

And what about the military? If all life was equally protected, our soldiers would have to go on trial any time they fired their weapons successfully-- even an enemy has a life.

Am I being ridiculous?

Not if you consider the “personhood” laws currently under consideration in at least six (reportedly as many as twelve) states.

Ballot initiatives and/or laws in various stages of consideration in Colorado, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina are attempting to redefine human life (“personhood”) as deserving of legal protection: beginning at fertilization.

The instant a microscopic sperm meets an egg, a legal person suddenly exists, with rights in court, and equal standing under law.

The primary goal of “personhood” laws is to criminalize abortion: forcing the Supreme Court to overturn Roe V. Wade.

Their approach is predicated on a statement made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun:

“(If the) suggestion of personhood is established, the case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the (14th) Amendment.”

If we agree to call all blastocysts full human beings, we forever deny a woman’s right to choose, and to control her own body.

There would be other consequences as well.

If blastocysts are assigned full “personhood”, embryonic stem cell research is automatically endangered; as is the birth control pill, and the In Vitro Fertility procedure.

Let’s take a look at Colorado’s measure, probably the furthest along. Signatures are already being gathered (76,000 needed) to put the measure on the November ballot.

It is brief, just one sentence:

“Colorado Human Life Amendment: As used in Sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the State Constitution, the terms ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.”

That’s it, the whole proposal. But it would have far-reaching consequences.

“The amendment, if approved by voters, would extend constitutional protections from the moment of conception, guaranteeing every fertilized egg the right to life, liberty, equality of justice and due process of law.” – www.denverpost.com Electra Draper, 11/14/2007

The initiative’s sponsor? Kristi Burton is 20 years old. Home-schooled, Ms. Burton graduated high school at age 15. At 17, she enrolled in a religion-based correspondence law school.

“…The people of Colorado will support protecting human life at every stage. More than that, we have God. And He is enough”, she stated to thunderous applause at a recent meeting of the Pro-Life Leaders Summit.

To hear her speaking, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHxH40aDlHE

Belinda Burger, deputy legal director for NARAL Pro-choice America, calls the personhood approach “scarier than an outright ban. First, because it can be hard for people to understand what it’s doing, and second, because it would be… further reaching.” (NY Times, Nov. 18, “Proposed Colorado measure on Rights for Human Eggs”, Kirk Johnson)

Do such measures have any backing?

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee: “In keeping with my consistent support for life, I …support the Georgia Personhood Amendment.” --“Georgia Right to Life PAC Endorses Mike Huckabee for President”, Dawson Times, Dec. 1, 2007

Other Presidential candidates, in and out of the race, who support the personhood concept: Alan Keyes (Republican), Peter Grasso (Independent), Duncan Hunter (Republican), and Ron Paul (Republican).

What does this mean to us, as stem cell research advocates?

I regard it as the last gasp of the anti- research crowd, trying desperately to stop embryonic stem cell research before the next President (and a stronger pro-research Congress) comes into office.

Whatever your position on abortion (I am against it, but feel it is the woman’s business, not mine or government’s, which makes me pro-choice) this would be a devastating law.

Consider:

If a blastocyst has equal legal rights in a court of law, birth control pills could be considered murder weapons.

The attempt for couples to have a child through the In Vitro Fertility process would be illegal— and what would be done about the 450,000 blastocysts currently in frozen storage? The “adoption” alternative has thus far been chosen for about one hundred—what about the other 449, 900? These would have to be stored for all eternity, or their donors could face prosecution; not to mention criminalization of the IVF procedure which has brought joy to more than a million new families around the world.

The personhood initiatives would provide legal footing to still more lawsuits against California’s stem cell program, like the earlier one on behalf of “Jane Doe”, a fictional frozen embryo—and this time it could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Roberts Court, certainly one of the most conservative in history.

Personally, I have had just about enough delays, enough law suits, enough attempts to crush out embryonic stem cell research.

I want the search for cures to go forward, not be frozen in fear of criminalization.

In a few short months, we will have a more supportive President, and new reasons for hope.

Until then, “Personhood” laws must be vigorously opposed.

South Carolina: H.3284/S.313 “Right to Life Act” TO AMEND TITLE 1, CHAPTER 1, CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, RELATING TO THE ADMINISTRATION OF GOVERNMENT, BY ADDING ARTICLE 5 SO AS TO ENACT THE "RIGHT TO LIFE ACT OF SOUTH CAROLINA" WHICH ESTABLISHES THAT THE RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS AND THE RIGHT TO EQUAL PROTECTION VEST AT FERTILIZATION.

Georgia: HR 536: A RESOLUTION proposing an amendment to the Constitution so as to provide that the paramount right to life is vested in each human being from the moment of fertilization without regard to age, race, sex, health, function, or condition of dependency; to provide for submission of this amendment for ratification or rejection; and for other purposes.

Michigan: Michigan Prenatal Child Protection Amendment: Section 27: “A ‘person’, for purposes of the Constitution and laws of the State of Michigan, exists from the point of conception.”

Mississippi: “Ultimate Human Life Amendment” PROPOSED BALLOT SUMMARY: Initiative #23 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to require legal recognition that human life begins and is protected at the moment of conception, and to forbid taking the life of a person by aiding a suicide attempt or by depriving an unborn person of life. 'Person' would be defined (without regard for conditions such as race, sex, age, health, function or dependency) to include all stages of biological development from conception until natural death

Montana: CI-100, the Montana Personhood Amendment. (44,615 signatures needed to qualify for November, 2008 ballot): CI-100 amends the Montana Constitution's Declaration of Rights to provide that all persons have a paramount andfundamental right to life. It extends constitutional rights to all persons from the moment of conception. It adds a definition of “person” that includes all stages of development, including fertilization.
Colorado Human Life Amendment: “As used in Sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the State Constitution, the terms ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.”

Don Reed

www.stemcellbattles.com

Don C. Reed is co-chair of Californians for Cures, and writes for their web blog, www.stemcellbattles.com. Reed was citizen-sponsor for California’s Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999, named after his paralyzed son; he worked as a grassroots advocate for California’s Senator Deborah Ortiz’s three stem cell regulatory laws, served as an executive board member for Proposition 71, the California Stem Cells for Research and Cures Act, and is director of policy outreach for Americans for Cures. The retired schoolteacher is the author of five books and thirty magazine articles, and has received the National Press Award.

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