Every sperm is a living, breathing person!

Posted on November 1, 2009

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Every sperm and every egg, fertilized or not, is a living, breathing person, endowed by its Creator with certain inalienable rights. At least, that’s what the proposed 2010 personhood amendment to the Colorado state constitution implies. No, it doesn’t say that literally, but thanks to the vague wording of the amendment, that’s one possible interpretation.

It’s also clear from an article in The Colorado Independent that this is only half of what the amendment’s authors intended.

“It’s intended to account for human beings who may be created through asexual reproduction in laboratories and used as raw material for research, organs, or stem cells. Fertilization would not have properly applied to asexually reproduced humans, but even asexually reproduced human beings have a definite biological beginning,” [Gualberto Garcia] Jones explained. (Jones heads the organization that initiated this year’s amendment)

That this law could be interpreted to include sperm is an ironic example of the law of unintended consequences.

The amendment’s final language, on which Colorado will vote in November 2010, is as follows:

SECTION 1. Article II of the constitution of the state of Colorado is amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION to read:
SECTION 2. Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the term “person” shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.

So what does “biological development” mean? Last year’s amendment defined a person as starting with a fertilized egg (and it lost by a 3:1 margin), and the new amendment could be interpreted to mean the same – a zygote is a person.

But this time, the amendment’s language is even broader. The Independent article makes it clear that this was intentional on the part of the amendment’s authors. The language was written specifically to “to be more comprehensive in our definition of a person,” and the result is that, if passed, the amendment will outlaw abortion, many types of birth control, stem cell research, and could potentially outlaw fertility clinics.

“Beginning of the biological development.” That phrase may be perfectly clear to a conservative Christian abortion activist like Jones, lawyers and judges will have a more difficult time interpreting what it does to Colorado’s laws.

Last year, our own Dr. Slammy and commenters pointed out a number of the absurdities that went along with last year’s failed amendment, such as allowing a pregnant woman to drive in the HOV lane, the legal drinking age becomes 20 years, 3 months, sex with a pregnant woman becomes menage-a-trois, a woman who is not aware that she is pregnant while engaging in a harmful activity of any kind could be charged with neglect, and so on.

The new proposed amendment is even broader in its possible interpretation because a single cell – an egg – would be defined as a “person” this time. And as a result, the possible ramifications are even more farcical.

The problem is that it’s really hard to define when a “person’s” biological development starts. You could say that it starts when an egg is fertilized and be relatively safe (if it passes in 2010 and survives the inevitable legal challenges, that’s probably how this amendment would ultimately be interpreted). But it’s possible that the amendment would be interpreted more broadly. After all, that egg started its development years or decades before it was fertilized. If the egg is damaged, then the “person’s” development will be adversely affected. And damaged eggs happen all the time – they’re one of reasons for miscarriages and failures to conceive. Does that mean that we need to protect a woman’s children when they’re eggs in a girl toddler’s immature ovaries? And how, exactly, are we going to do that?

Are we willing to charge prepubescent girls with child neglect for daring to play soccer and risking ovary damage? What’s next, forcing women to wear petticoats and ride horses sidesaddle? Actually, I suspect that many of Jones’ supporters would find cultural regression to Victorian or Puritan values to be pleasantly refreshing.

And since a human can’t develop without the aid of sperm (cloning aside), does development start when intercourse and ejaculation provide the sperm? Or does it start in the man’s testicles? Or even before then? Damaged sperm are a lot more common than damage eggs – that’s the biological reason that men produce billions of them. Is each damaged sperm an example of child neglect? Should we charge a little league coach with manslaughter if he accidentally throws a baseball into a boy’s crotch with an errant pitch? And should urologists be prosecuted for accessory to murder for performing a vasectomy?

The zygote personhood amendment last year crashed and burned because Coloradans understood that it was a legal minefield of epic scale. This proposed personhood amendment is even worse. Any legislation that makes a minimum of 20,000 separate changes to Colorado law is going to have a huge number of unpredictable unintended consequences.

One of those unintended consequences will be that Colorado will become more of a laughingstock than it was during the Amendment 2 debacle decades ago, or than Kansas was after its school board voted to permit the teaching of “intelligent design.”

It will be in the voters’ hands in 2010. Hopefully they’ll make the right decision next year just as they did last year.

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