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Count your chickens

August 4, 2008

WARNING: This article got a little more long-winded than I expected, but it includes a little education on due process, some jokes, and maybe a robotic black bear, I can’t really remember.

A petition to amend the state constitution of Colorado to count fertilized human eggs as people has gotten 103,000 valid signatures. This is well over the 76,000 needed to put the measure on Novembers ballot. Though this is an anti-abortion bill, the religious right has not thought this through, which is a real shock to me.

If a fertilized egg is granted personhood, this affects far more than just the legality of abortion. This would affect the birth control pill, as the pill prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus. How would this affect a medical procedure that would save the mother but potentially abort the pregnancy? If a pregnant woman overworks herself and miscarries, could she be accused of unintentional manslaughter? Would a pregnant woman eating brie cheese be on prevented by law in the same way that indoor smoking bans have?

Some of those questions may seem silly, but let’s take a look at the actual text of the measure, shall we?

Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Colorado: SECTION 1. Article II of the constitution of the state of Colorado is amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION to read:

Section 31. Person defined. 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. (source)

That’s pretty cut and dry, so why don’t we take a look at the Constitution of the state of Colorado, focusing on these three sections.

Section 3. Inalienable rights. All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

Well, this seems pretty innocuous, considering that fertilized eggs can’t possibly enjoy their lives and liberties, can’t acquire property, and are incapable of obtaining safety or feeling happiness. Remember folks, we’re talking about a single cell here. Moving on:

Section 6. Equality of justice. Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and a speedy remedy afforded for every injury to person, property or character; and right and justice should be administered without sale, denial or delay.

This one is really the kicker. This is where my questions above become not quite so ridiculous. An egg, a single cell with none of the physical, mental, or emotional characteristics and capabilities that are shared by the other people that enjoy the benefit of this law will be protected by the full force of the law as an actual person. You can’t use birth control, because that would be murder. You can’t have soft moldy cheeses because that is reckless endangerment. Mothers would be required by law to protect a cell as they would a real human child. This is truly beyond ridiculous! However, it gets more surreal…

Section 25. Due process of law. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

Due process is used in legal contracts to protect a person from paying penalty to the government without benefit of defense in a court of law, or as a protection of natural rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. Due process is protected at the Federal level in the 5th amendment and was extended to the states in the 14th. There are two types: procedural and substantive. Procedural due process “includes an individual’s right to be adequately notified of charges or proceedings, and the opportunity to be heard at these proceedings.” (source) This is specifically protecting a citizen who stands accused of a crime. Substantive due process is a little bit more ethereal, and has been used in the past to protect from government intrusion natural rights that were not specifically mentioned in the constitution: homeschooling (Pierce vs. Society of Sisters), interracial marriage (Loving vs. the State of Virginia), or the right to refuse medical treatment (Cruzan vs. the State of Missouri) are among those rights.

While I am certain that their only goal was to protect an eggs right to life by ensuring it’s protection under substantive due process, I can’t get the image of an egg on trial for murder or trying to get married to an egg of a different race out of my head.

There seems to me to be little thought put into this by the petitioners as it has far-reaching negative aspects to it that seems to outweigh the benefits of protecting an unthinking, unfeeling egg. It seems like the petitioner want to drive a nail with an atom bomb.

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