November 15, 2007

Murder by Smashed Petri Dish!

by PG

Via Feministe/ Echidne comes the news that a group calling itself "Colorado for Equal Rights for Human Life" is gathering signatures to put a constitutional amendment on next year's ballot. The question is, Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution defining the term "person" to include any human being from the moment of fertilization, as "person" is used in those provisions of the Colorado constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law? To the Associated Press, the measure's proponents claim, "It doesn't outlaw abortion, it doesn't regulate birth control"; in a right-wing forum like WorldNetDaily, they openly say they are trying to use a "loophole" in Roe v. Wade.

Fetal personhood would be such a far-reaching change in American law that even a few abortion prohibitionists point out the potential unintended consequences: women prosecuted for negligent homicide if they accidentally cause a miscarriage, or for reckless endangerment if they engage in behavior that could harm the fetal person. Other conservatives have responded that either women should be prosecuted for (potential) damage to fetuses, or reiterated the claim that the constitutional amendment won't add any new laws. The latter belief ignores the fact that all our existing criminal laws apply to all natural persons. If the laws against negligent homicide or reckless endangerment weren't applied in the case of fetal persons, they obviously would not receive equal justice and due process.

Given the opposition of many abortion prohibitionists to assisted reproduction clinics, the potential consequences for such facilities may be welcome. At the moment, negligent administration of such clinics is punishable only in tort; if a worker accidentally breaks the container holding embryos for implantation, or their generators fail during a power outage and thereby defrost thousands of stored embryos, the couples to whom the embryos belonged can sue for the destruction of property. Because of how much such facilities charge their customers and the availability of insurance to cover the cost of lawsuits, the prospect of such civil damages do not deter reproductive clinics. They also have the option of requiring clients to contract out of holding the facility liable.

Once the embryos are people, however, someone would be very risk-friendly to work there, knowing that a mistake in handling a single round of implantations resulting in eight embryos could result in his being prosecuted for eight homicides. Again, a failure to treat someone who dropped a container of eight embryos the same way we would treat a person who managed to drop and kill eight infants would be an unconstitutional denial of equal justice to the embryonic persons.

November 15, 2007 07:22 PM | TrackBack
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