Colorado is stepping onto the slipperiest of slopes with ballot initiative 25, also known as the Colorado Personhood Amendment, which will severely curtail the rights of pregnant women by granting full legal rights to the cells of a fertilized egg. Initiative 25 would also extend personhood rights to eggs fertilized asexually, which would impact in vitro fertilization. And it falsely assigns 'personhood' without really understanding human development.
The initiative is less about promoting personhood and more about restricting reproductive choice. It's part of a nationwide effort by pro-life activist organization Personhood USA to introduce similiar legislation in every state in the U.S., a goal they announced earlier today. Founded by Cal Zastrow and Keith Mason, the two men are clear on their intent as they told MetroCatholic.com:
"Our goal has been to serve Jesus Christ and offer support to grassroots pro-lifers," stated Cal Zastrow, co-founder of Personhood USA. "Personhood USA exists to support, encourage, and assist Personhood movements across the country. We are excited to continue this fight against the dehumanization and murder of preborn children."
Attorneys affiliated with Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union say that Personhood USA is essentially opening up a can of worms with little regard for the legal ramifications. In Colorado, initiative 25 would amend the state constitution in more than 20,000 places, opening the door to potential criminal charges being filed against pregnant women who have a drink, are morbidly obese, attempt suicide, or use the Pill -- all situations that could pose a risk to the fetus. And a woman could be charged with a crime even if she didn't know she was pregnant at the time.
According to the Colorado Independent, the co-founders of Personhood USA could give a hoot about any of the above:
The legal questions surrounding the initiative at this point are not a priority to Personhood USA....
Presented with some of the hypothetical legal and rights issues related to the initiative, Keith Mason...one of the proponents of Initiative 25, said he didn't want to speculate on the particulars of the bill.
"I can't answer that because it's a hypothetical," said Mason. "It's like asking what would happen if a Martian came down and impregnated a woman on Earth. Let's talk about real issues."
Mason said he would "worry about the [legal] details later," after the bill had passed.
Let's talk about the real issues then, as Mason said.
The real issue is that any form of 'personhood' would ban all forms of abortion, even in the case of rape or incest; it would deny women the right to choose; and it would even make illegal many forms of contraception such as birth control pills, which prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
Personhood destroys the most fundamental of American democratic concepts -- the separation of church and state, a guiding principle of government that our founding fathers knew was critical to freedom and self-determination. Personhood is far more dangerous than we realize.
Personhood is misogyny wrapped up in the 'you can't touch this' veil of religion and puts forth a faith-based viewpoint which does not even represent the majority of those who are followers of Christianity and/or believe in God or a higher Being.
Looking at 'personhood' from a purely rational perspective, consider this; it's estimated that the human body has between 50 and 75 trillion cells. If we go back to basic biology, you'll remember that when the sperm penetrates the egg, the resulting single cell is called a zygote. At this point, Personhood USA refers to this material as a 'person'...but is it? Read on to refresh your memory about how embryonic development occurs:
The zygote spends the next few days traveling down the Fallopian tube and divides to form a ball of cells. The zygote continues to divide, creating an inner group of cells with an outer shell. This stage is called a blastocyst. The inner group of cells will become the embryo, while the outer group of cells will become the membranes that nourish and protect it.
The blastocyst reaches the womb (uterus) around day 5, and implants into the uterine wall on about day 6....The cells of the embryo now multiply and begin to take on specific functions. This process is called differentiation. It leads to the various cell types that make up a human being (such as blood cells, kidney cells, and nerve cells).
I've bolded the sentence that highlights the biggest flaw in the personhood argument -- a point I have yet to see any anti-choice advocate refute.
In the early stages of fetal development, only a small portion of the cells actually become 'the baby.' The other portion becomes the placenta, the support material that makes a full-term pregnancy possible but is 'thrown out' after birth -- in fact, it's often called 'afterbirth.' Afterbirth arises from embryonic tissue, but it is not a 'person.'
So personhood amendments, in effect, are elevating the cells of the zygote by labeling all of them a 'person' when many of them will never grow into a human being and lack the potential to do so. In fact, can anyone tell the difference between the cells of the zygote that will become the fetus and those that will develop into the placenta?
As for the fetus itself, cell differentiation doesn't begin until after day 6 following conception.
Keep this in mind as we go back and compare the woman with the zygote.
What rational, intelligent, thinking human being would say, "Yes, I agree that the rights of the 50-70 trillion cells of the mother should be superseded by the rights of the 32-celled zygote when it's not even clear which of those cells will become a baby and which will become the placenta which will be thrown out after birth."
That's what Personhood USA is saying, and it's not only an irrational argument, it's an incredibly emotional and uninformed position to take.
I'll support 'personhood' when Mason and Zastrow can look at a multi-celled embryo and tell me which ones will grow and emerge as a baby, speak its first words, take its first steps, attend kindergarten, learn to read, go to prom, graduate from high school, get a job, pay taxes, marry or live alone, raise children (or not) and eventually die...and which ones will become the placenta and get 'thrown out.'
Because Personhood USA is adamantly opposed to throwing out cells -- it intends to empower them by making them 'persons' at an arbitrary point in embryonic development. But it ignores basic biology and attempts to slap a simplistic, emotionally-laced definition of 'personhood' on a cellular mass of genetic material, some of which may or may not have the potential to become human life.
And there's the rub. When we begin to falsely empower placenta cells -- in an attempt to protect human life and 'unborn babies' -- and trample the basic rights of women in the U.S., then something is terribly, terribly wrong. And smart, intelligent, rational women and men cannot stand aside and let this happen without a fight.