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22 October 2008

Rocky Recycles Burton's Evasions on Amendment 48

By Ari

Reposted: On September 19, the Pagosa Daily Post published an op-ed by Kristi Burton that was filled with distortions and evasions. I replied. Then, on September 25, The Denver Post published the same op-ed. That didn't surprise me, because nobody can actually sustain an argument in favor of Amendment 48. But it did surprise me that the Rocky Mountain News published virtually the same op-ed yesterday; usually the papers try not to publish the same pieces.

My previous reply answers Burton's main points. However, given the widespread distribution of her piece, I thought I'd extend my reply here.

Burton writes: "Let me make it clear: Amendment 48 is about empowering you, the voter."

Note that that's her leading argument. And it's completely meaningless. Every ballot measure "is about empowering you, the voter," to decide the measure. But in a deeper sense, it is not about "empowering" the voter, for there is no such thing. Rather, it is about empowering those with the faith-based view that a fertilized egg is a person to impose their police state on the rest of us.

To reiterate, Amendment 48 would ban all abortions except perhaps to save the woman's life. It would force women to carry their pregnancies to term even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and health risks (and obviously in cases in which the woman decides she is unprepared to bear a child). It would necessitate criminal penalties -- perhaps including the death penalty if current statutes remain in force -- for abortion. It would ban practically all fertility treatments. It would ban the birth-control pill, IUD, and other forms of birth control. For details, see "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life" by Diana Hsieh and me.

Burton writes, "It's about allowing the democratic process to make decisions that have been made by special-interest groups for the last 40 years while using your taxes for their own gain."

This is ridiculous. These "decisions" have been made individually by millions of women and their partners, the Supreme Court, and various politicians and activists. True, some tax dollars have gone to Planned Parenthood, which I oppose (because I oppose the transfer of tax dollars for any health-related expense). But obviously that issue is separable from the matter of abortion. (This should serve as a warning to the left, however: if you keep begging for tax funds, you keep giving the religious right more opportunities to control the funded organizations.)

Burton claims she wants to ensure "our laws are built on honest premises." That's a laugh; she lies in the same op-ed by claiming the "Personhood Amendment doesn't change the constitution in any way." That line remains inexcusable (and I'm frankly amazed that the state's major newspapers have let her get away with the obvious distortion). Amendment 48 is a constitutional amendment.

Burton writes:

The words we choose matter. Mendez continually referred to newly formed persons as "fertilized eggs." This is a familiar strategy. In the same way, there's a reason why abortion proponents use the term "pro-choice." It shifts the debate away from the ugly reality of abortion. The repeated use of the term "fertilized egg" robs the developing human of personhood, just as the word "fetus" dehumanizes a developing baby.
There's a reason why opponents of Amendment 48 use the term "fertilized egg." The reason is that Amendment 48 itself uses that language. Amendment 48 would add the following new section to the state's 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."

At least Burton grants that she wants to outlaw "abortion" of a fertilized egg even before it implants in the uterus, the usual marker of pregnancy.

Burton commits the same fallacy of which she accuses her opponents. She calls a fertilized egg a "person," as if that arbitrary definition alone can carry the debate. The difference is that she has never offered a single, coherent argument as to why a fertilized egg is a person.

By contrast, Diana Hsieh and I offer a detailed argument as to why it's not. So it's correct to refer to a "fertilized egg" as a "fertilized egg," but it is wrong to refer to it as a "person," as Burton does.

But Burton doesn't have any actual arguments to back up her position, she just has faith. She can't even be bothered to discuss most of the measure's implications.

Some weeks ago, I suggested to a friend a set of questions that I wish Burton would answer. Perhaps in a future op-ed, she'll address these points. I'll not hold my breath. Here are the questions:

1. Do you believe that the birth-control pill or IUD may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus?

2. Do you believe that the birth-control pill, IUD, or any other form of birth control should be banned?

3. At what risk to the woman's life, if any, do you believe an abortion should be legal, and who should be the final authority in deciding such matters? (Note: Burton has granted that she would allow abortion if otherwise the mother certainly would die, but she still needs to address the real issue of what to do about weighing uncertain risks and health problems that are not immediately life-threatening.)

4. Do you believe that in vitro fertilization that may result in destroyed or frozen embryos should be banned?

5. What criminal penalty do you believe is appropriate for women who get abortions? What about their doctors?

6. Do you believe that women should be forced to carry to term fetuses known to suffer Down Syndrome or other serious health problems?

7. Do you believe that abortion should be completely banned in cases of rape and incest?

8. Do you believe that all stem-cell medical research should be banned?

9. Why do you believe that a fertilized egg is a person (as opposed to "life" or something that contains human DNA)?

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