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14 October 2008

Amendment 48 Smoke Screen


On September 19, the Pagosa Daily Post published an op-ed by Kristi Burton in support of her Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's Constitution. The paper published Ari Armstrong's excellent and lengthy letter in reply on September 23. It reads:

Amendment 48 Smoke Screen
Ari Armstrong

Kristi Burton tries to hide Amendment 48 behind a cloud of smoke in her September 19 Post opinion article. The measure would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's constitution.

Burton's claim that Amendment 48 "doesn't change the constitution in any way" is dishonest. It would add a new section to the state constitution:

"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."

The related provisions pertain to the rights to life, liberty, equality of justice, and due process of law.

The constitution guides interpretation of statutes. For example, existing statutes define first-degree murder as deliberately causing the death of a "person," resulting in life in prison or the death penalty. Burton has never indicated what criminal penalties she wants for abortion.

At least Burton acknowledges she wants to outlaw "abortion on demand." However, she does not admit the full legal ramifications of Amendment 48 if implemented. Women would be forced to carry to term pregnancies even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity. Women suspected of purposely inducing a miscarriage might be subject to criminal investigation.

Burton claims, "Mothers also possess personhood and the amendment in no way endangers their well-being." However, if a fertilized egg is a person, then the life of a fertilized egg must be balanced against the life of the woman, with details to be decided by the courts.

Nor does Burton discuss the impact of Amendment 48 on birth control, fertility treatments, and medical research. The popular birth control pill and other types may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Fertility treatments help hundreds of Colorado women become pregnant every year, but those treatments regularly involve the destruction or freezing of fertilized eggs. Amendment 48 would ban those forms of birth control and fertility treatments.

The facts are these: a fertilized egg, as it develops into an embryo and fetus, is wholly contained within the woman's body and completely dependent on the woman's body for sustenance. This is radically different from a born child, which, while still very needy, can eat and breathe using its own organs and leave its mother to be cared for by somebody else. Thus, personhood begins at birth. A pregnant woman has the right to liberty, including the right to get an abortion.

The same facts show Burton is also wrong in tying abortion to "taking away the lives and dignity of the elderly, sick and disabled." While a fertilized egg is not a person, the elderly, sick, and disabled are people.

Burton rightly criticizes the view that "each person decides" when personhood begins. That is why Burton is wrong to arbitrarily declare that a fertilized egg is a person, when the biological facts show otherwise.

For a more detailed description of the harms of the measure, see "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life" at the Secular Government website.

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