By Diana Hsieh
The Rocky Mountain News recently published a letter to the editor from a self-described "pro-life" Catholic obstetrician urging a "no" vote on Colorado's Amendment 48, the ballot measure that would grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. Dr. Thomas Moffatt writes:
As a Catholic and retired pro-life obstetrician, I am very concerned about Amendment 48. I am concerned, in a pluralistic, democratic society, about imposing my religious beliefs on another. There is, then, nothing to stop others from imposing their beliefs on me. But from a purely medical and pro-life point of view, how can I impose my beliefs on another to the point that women can and will die?Dr. Moffatt is right. Amendment 48 would endanger the lives of pregnant women, just as the ban on abortion in Nicaragua has done. To learn more about the practical effects of the Nicaraguan ban, read "Over Their Dead Bodies: Denial of Access to Emergency Obstetric Care and Therapeutic Abortion in Nicaragua," an issue paper published by Human Rights Watch. In Nicaragua, women suffer and die needlessly from the complications of pregnancy, despite government edicts directing doctors to offer them proper medical care. What doctor wants to risk a murder charge, after all?
I have been faced with situations in my years of practice in which I had to decide if one person or two would die. Two prime examples are ectopic - or tubal - pregnancies, and infected pregnancies. Must we now allow a woman to die if she is hemorrhaging from a ruptured fallopian tube? Should both the mother and child die in the case of an infected pregnancy, which often, sadly, occurs in the middle trimester?
Will a physician, in saving a woman's life, be subject to criminal prosecution? We know some prosecutor will, eventually, try to make a name for himself by charging a physician with manslaughter or worse.
Please vote against Amendment 48.
Frighteningly, Amendment 48 might forbid any medical treatment that might harm the embryo/fetus, even when the woman's life and health might be at risk. Why? Because the amendment isn't a clear ban on abortion. Instead, it's a statement of rights: the embryo/fetus would be granted an equal right to life as the pregnant woman, whether viable or not. So the courts might decide -- based on lawsuits from the "Fetus First!" types behind the measure -- that the woman cannot kill the innocent person inside her, even to save her own life. That's unlikely, but possible. We can't know in advance because Amendment 48 would force the hopeless task of attempting to negotiate between the genuine rights of the woman and the fictional rights of the embryo/fetus on the Colorado courts.
For more on the legal consequences of Amendment 48, see CSG's own issue paper "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person" by Ari Armstrong and myself.