26 August 2008

Coalition for Secular Government on Amendment 48

The Coalition for Secular Government (CSG) recently released an excellent paper, Amendment 48 Is Anti Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person, by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh.  The paper speaks for itself and ought to be read carefully in its entirety, but I wish to highlight a few ideas that I found to be particular insightful.

First, for readers unfamiliar with it, the proposed amendment to the Colorado constitution known as Amendment 48 would add the following text to define “personhood”: “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.”[Emphasis mine.]  The referenced sections include basic inalienable rights, such as the right to one’s life and property, and the right to due process and justice in court.

The consequences of defining a fertilized egg as a “person” vividly illustrate why the abortion issue is not merely a minor political “hot button” for women, but is a matter of life and death for all rational human beings.  To extend the rights of a human being to human cells is to dispense with rights altogether.

One profound insight of the CSG paper is a general one, applicable beyond the content of this particular law: when a measure is passed that so egregiously violates individual rights, the rule of law itself is strained.  Armstrong and Hsieh write, “The more consistently Amendment 48 were enforced and interpreted by the courts, the more ghastly its implications would be.”  And later, “The legislature and courts in Colorado might be strongly tempted to pretend that Amendment 48 doesn’t mean what it plainly says in order to avoid its absurd implications.  Such a course of legislative and judicial winking might save Colorado from the worst effects of the measure, but it would do so by undermining the basic principle of rule of law so essential to a free society.”(Note 1.) 

This is a critical point.  The implications of Amendment 48 are stunningly wide-reaching if one takes the law for what it says.  So, either the law means what it says, which if enforced would impose shocking and outrageous limitations on human activities, or the law is to be applied selectively, which would subvert the rule of law itself.  

The truth is that the passage of such an amendment to the Colorado constitution would achieve both disadvantages simultaneously.  Not every implication would come about at once, of course.  At first, the public would challenge some of the ramifications, such as the banning of birth control pills (and perhaps wonder how on earth an “abortion” law could be used in such a way).  But once the measure is passed, it is too late.  The law would always be there, a guillotine blade hanging ominously over citizens’ heads.  Challenges to abortions, to the use of birth control, to experiments with stem cells, and to fertility procedures, would take the form of particular battles waged in court that get successively more difficult to defend against.  The public will have lost the opportunity to dash the amendment at its inception, to excoriate it in principle.  That opportunity is here now, and must not be missed.

If there is a benefit to the proposed Amendment 48 it is that it draws the advocates of a religious state out of the woodwork, exposing their goals in an unusually pure form.  But this clarity exists as a benefit only insofar as we take the religionists seriously and vehemently denounce their attempts to inject religion into the law.  Most importantly, the religionists must be challenged on the proper grounds - specifically, their superstition must be met with the facts of reality, and their morality of sacrifice and altruism must be met with a morality of rational self-interest.  The CSG paper succeeds on both counts.  In its presentation of the biological facts, Armstrong and Hsieh write:

[S]o long as the fetus remains within the woman, it is wholly dependent on her for its basic life-functions.  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.  It is wholly contained within and dependent on her for its survival.

This is the crux of the matter, the primary relevant fact.  There is simply no fact of nature that would account for a fetus (not to mention a just-fertilized egg) being imbued with the status of a rights-bearing human being; this is why the religionists necessarily introduce arbitrary and supernatural pretexts (such as “God-given rights” and eternal souls) for their position.  In every real, natural, biological sense - that is to say, in any sense that should be considered by the law - the fetus is part of the woman’s body.  They are her cells, not God’s or society’s, and she may dispose of them as she judges best - and if she is moral, she will base this decision on her own long-term self-interest.  

This brings me to the morality of abortion.  The CSG paper makes clear the stark difference between a morality based upon self-interest, which requires an embrace of reality, rationality, and a long-range view, and one based upon sacrifice, superstition, and passive obedience to scriptural command.  “Responsible adults do not allow themselves to be buffeted about in life by accidental circumstances,” write the authors.

The victims of Amendment 48 would be men and women who seek happiness in life; couples who wish to enjoy a rewarding sexual relationship; those that must use fertility techniques to help them have children where none could be expected; people who plan and properly consider all the ramifications of starting a family; women who wish to flourish and be productive in their careers before having (or without having) children; and the untold number of men and women that want to survive the diseases that would have had cures if stem-cell research had not been thwarted.  In short, it is moral people who are victimized by Amendment 48.

In contrast, the advocates of Amendment 48 are profoundly immoral.  For them, a woman is not an independent, rational being who owns her own body; she is merely a sacrificial vessel for God’s plans, an incubator for God’s children.  If she has sexual intercourse - whether or not she has used birth control, whether or not she has been raped, whether or not she can afford to raise a child, whether or not her life’s plans will be ruined, whether or not the delivery will kill her - the consequences must be left in God’s hands.  In the same breath, the religionists claim that a clump of a woman’s cells constitutes a being with rights while the woman herself has no rights.  They hold that a woman cannot remove a part of her body that is deleterious to her life, but a government (in particular, one sanctioned by God) can dispose of the woman as it chooses.

The title of the CSG paper makes a key identification: that the allegedly “pro-life” anti-abortion crusaders are actually anti-life - or more specifically, anti-life qua human.  The religionists smuggle in their advocacy of force under the pretext that “all human life has value,” but in fact it is precisely living a human life that is surrendered.  The woman herself is sacrificed upon the altar to save a group of cells in her body. 



1.  Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person, Coalition for Secular Government, August, 2008.  (http://www.SecularGovernment.us/docs/a48.pdf)


Burgess Laughlin said...

In searching for a method for determining how to vote, I have considered using the abortion issue as a "litmus test," that is, a single indicator.

The advantage is that a politician's position on the right to choose an abortion sometimes reveals his metaphysics (How can one pregnant woman be two people, each with rights?), epistemology (reason and logic versus revelation and faith), ethics (egoism versus altruism), and politics (the right of individuals to decide their own future versus a parentalist state forcing its decisions on individuals).

The disadvantage of using it as a single-issue indicator is that supposed proponents of abortion rights are often statists themselves and often are not "pro-choice" for the victims of taxation who are forced to pay for others' abortions.

Thank you for your analysis. It is clear, calm, and informative.

Stephen Bourque said...

That's a very insightful comment, Burgess. Though at first glance, the abortion issue might seem minor compared to more general issues, it is actually very telling for all the reasons you stated.

Perhaps the disadvantage that you noted can be resolved by considering it as follows: a "pro-choice" position may indicate a proper philosophy (i.e. it is a necessary but not sufficient indication), while a so-called "pro-life" position is an immediate disqualifier because it reveals an unambiguously wrong position in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics.