Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

04 November 2008

Op-Ed Against Amendment 48


My op-ed on abortion rights was published in the Rocky Mountain News yesterday. Here it is:

There's Nothing Wrong with Abortion, But 48 Is Wrong
By Diana Hsieh
November 3, 2008

On November 4th, voters in Colorado will face a stark moral choice: vote yea or nay on Amendment 48 to alter the "Definition of a Person" in our state Constitution. This amendment would grant fertilized eggs the legal standing of persons, including "inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law."

If fully implemented, all abortions would be outlawed in Colorado, including in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the woman's health. Any woman who terminated a pregnancy would be guilty of murder, subject to life in prison or the death penalty. Colorado would also ban forms of birth control preventing the implantation in the womb, including the birth control pill.

Roe v. Wade would not necessarily protect women against these ominous legal restrictions. Rather, supporters of the amendment hope to use it as grounds for challenging that landmark case in the Supreme Court -- or perhaps as fuel for a nationwide movement for a similar federal constitutional amendment.

Despite its draconian implications for reproductive freedom, this proposed amendment has gathered solid support from Colorado voters. Polls show that 35 percent favor it, 52 percent oppose it, and 14 percent are undecided.

Why such strong support? Over the past two decades, the religious right has effectively waged a holy war on abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent human life, they say. It violates an unborn child's right to life.

It is part of a "culture of death." Consequently, most Americans regard abortion as morally suspect except in those rare cases when a pregnancy threatens the woman's mental or physical health.

Yet the religious right's attacks on abortion are completely and utterly wrong. They evade the true meaning of the basic biological facts of pregnancy.

The opponents of abortion claim that embryos and fetuses have the same right to life as babies because they are distinct, living human beings. Certainly, a fetus is alive, not inert matter. It's also human--not canine or hippopotamus. Yet every distinct, living skin cell a person washes off in the shower also contains human DNA. A tumor is human tissue distinct from its host. The embryo or fetus is different because it's a potential human person. That human person will become actual at birth. Then, and only then, does this new person have a right to life.

The fetus is only a potential human person, even when well-developed, so long as in the womb. In the womb, it is not a biologically separate entity capable of independent action, like a baby. It exists as part of the woman carrying it, wholly contained within and dependent on her. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as she lives, as an extension of her body. A fetus cannot act independently to sustain its life, not even on the basic biological level possible to a day-old infant.

That situation changes radically at birth. A baby lives a life of its own.

Although still very needy, he maintains his own biological functions. He breathes his own air, digests his own food, and moves on his own. He interacts with other people as a creature in his own right, not merely as a part of a pregnant woman. He has a life of his own that must be protected as a matter of right.

The fundamental biological differences between a fetus and a baby show that a woman has every right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy--for any reason.

If an abortion will protect and further her own life and happiness, then she ought to pursue that option with a clear conscience.

That's why, to protect a woman's moral right to her own life and happiness, the people of Colorado must answer a resounding "NAY" to Amendment 48 tomorrow.

Diana Hsieh is founder of the Coalition for Secular Government.

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