On the ballot this year is a highly controversial proposition manipulatively titled “The Colorado Equal Rights Amendment.”
You’ve probably heard it referred to as the abortion initiative or the pro-life bill, both of which would be far more accurate titles. The text reads: “As used in sections 3, 6 and 25 of the state constitution, the terms “person” or “persons” shall include a human being from the moment of fertilization.”
There are many reasons for why we ought to reject this measure. Amendment 48 is broad, imprecise and extreme in its reach. Not only are typical pro-choice groups strongly urging voters to reject the measure, conservative Senate candidate Bob Schaffer and a coalition of Catholic bishops have voiced their opposition to 48.
Clearly, partisan politics aren’t at the crux of this bill — personhood is.
There is no firm consensus on the definition of personhood between lawmakers, religious followers, philosophers and bioethicists. The authors of 48 make no bones about their agenda, which is not to clarify what personhood truly is, but, rather, to outlaw abortion.
Personhood is a category to be taken seriously because it has profound ethical and legal implications. We should be very careful not to confuse things that are alive with things that are persons, which is what the text of 48 does.
In the United States legal system, the term “person” implies a human being who, in addition to their rational faculties, has certain rights and duties bestowed upon them. The key word in this is “duties.” Anything, living or not, can be awarded rights. But in order to fulfill duties, a person must posses some degree or self-awareness or self-consciousness.
So how does this apply to our 48 problem? These indications of what makes a person are not sharply defined, but the wording of the bill is radical enough (in equating a fertilized egg to a person) that the abstractions become useful.
It would be foolish to propose that a single cell has thinking ability — zygotes do not have brains or nervous systems. They are not self-conscious and they cannot perform duties.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have value, but it does mean they are not persons. Approving this amendment could prevent access to contraceptives and severely hamper treatment for pregnant women and rape victims. It could threaten physicians who work in the best interest of their female patients, and likely encourage legal loopholes and messy legislation.
Broad, dangerous and extreme, Amendment 48 should not pass.
Ilana Fischer is a member of the Roosevelt Institution, a new student group at the University of Colorado. Its mission is to analyze exiting policies, write new ones and participate in government.