Sep 102008
Authors: Seth Anthony

In just under two months, you’ll get to cast your ballot, not just for President and Congress, but also for 18 ballot measures — changes to Colorado law or to the state constitution.

Between now and the election on Nov. 4, I’ll run down my impressions of these ballot measures, which cover topics ranging from affirmative action to union dues.

Today, I start with Amendment 48, which would make a small change with profound implications. The central 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?”

This definition would apply to provisions of the constitution that guarantee equal rights, equality of justice and due process of law. In short, it would mean that the fundamental protections of the law would apply as strongly to an embryo or fetus as to a newborn infant or mature adult.

Like Barack Obama, I think that the question of when life begins is “above my pay grade” — I’m not equipped with the resources or cosmic insight to fully answer this question precisely. But while many people draw moral distinctions at the moment of birth, my instinct tells me that there’s no intrinsic difference between a fetus inside the womb and an infant, five minutes later, outside.

So while I’m usually shocked to find myself agreeing with the religious right, in this matter, you could fairly call me strongly pro-life. I simply can’t admit that a 5-day-old infant is fully alive and deserving of protection, but that a fetus at 20 weeks of gestation isn’t.

If the beginning of personhood isn’t birth, though, when is it? Viability — the point at which a child can survive outside the womb — is often cited, but the threshold of viability keeps changing with advances in medical technology.

The clearest point, aside from birth, is the moment of conception. But calling it a “moment” is an oversimplification: the sperm cell has to penetrate the egg cell, the two sets of chromosomes have to approach each other, and none of this is instantaneous.

But let’s grant the assumption that life begins at the “moment” of conception; does that automatically mean that causing an abortion — the death of an embryo or fetus — should be considered murder? Some of the proponents of Amendment 48 would argue that, yes, that’s what their “simple” measure is designed to do, but I have yet to hear answers to a whole host of additional questions.

If a woman is on birth control that prevents a fertilized embryo from implanting in the uterus, is that murder or negligent homicide? What will this mean for the availability of birth control? Will women whose pregnancies put their own lives at risk be required to attempt to carry babies to term? Will miscarriages be subject to criminal investigations? What are the implications for in-vitro fertilization and for stem-cell research?

If a pregnant woman seeks an abortion, is she an accessory to murder? Does discussing an abortion mean the woman is engaged in a conspiracy to commit murder? How many doctors will we put behind bars, and for how long? How many pregnant women are we prepared to incarcerate for seeking abortions? How many injuries or deaths due to botched, back-alley, abortions are we prepared to accept?

Outlawing abortion, as Amendment 48 would do, may align with moral sensibilities, but any moral code also demands that we consider all consequences, not just those we might like most. It’s telling that the proponents of this ballot measure don’t address these questions on their Website or in their campaign, even though they’ve been asked over and over by both pro-life and pro-choice advocates. If, like me, you find that this measures proponents aren’t answering the hard questions, then vote “no” on Amendment 48.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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