Abortion on the Ballot:

Voters in three states will consider ballot initiatives on abortion this Fall. The most aggressive is in South Dakota, where voters will consider a virtual ban (with exceptions for rape, incest, and threats to the mother's life). Anti-abortion activists hope to use the law as the basis for an eventual Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, California voters will consider a parental notification requirement, and Coloradans will consider whether to define "person" as "any human being from the moment of fertilization." All three will be worth watching.

I think the third is the avenue most likely to succeed. Comparing the interests of the mother with the interests of the STATE in protecting the unborn child completely misses the entire point of why abortion is a horrific practice. Changing the question comparing the interests of the mother with the interests of the unborn child his- or herself makes the answer much more obvious from a comparative standpoint.
8.31.2008 9:11am
Dan M.:
I will never understand the "rape or incest" exception. Hell, if it's CONSENSUAL incest, then why should you have a special right to abortion? So, really, if anything, it should be just a rape exception, which would obviously already include incestual rape.

But, even in the case of a rape, if it is your personal belief that life begins at conception and that the unborn should have rights, what about a rape should deny an unborn child the right to life? Is "my mom was raped" considered due process or something? I certainly understand that people want to chip away at abortion and want to appear "moderate" by giving exceptions so that they can get their foot in, but if you accept any exception to your opposition to abortion besides a threat to the life of the mother, then your whole position simply becomes incoherent.
8.31.2008 10:28am
if you accept any exception to your opposition to abortion besides a threat to the life of the mother, then your whole position simply becomes incoherent.
Intellectually incoherent, sure, but politics is the art of the possible. A law with rape-or-incest exception will cover 90% of the cases if it's passed; a law without that exception will never pass.

And don't worry, the pro-abortion position is just as inconsistent.
8.31.2008 11:19am
DiverDan (mail):
I'm frankly a little confused by Colorado - Just who came up with the concept of "moment of fertilization"? These folks obviously don't understand that fertilization (i.e., when sperm meets egg) most often occurs in the falopian tubes, with the fertilized egg making its way into the uterus to either implant in the uterine wall or, as commonly happens in nature, to fail to implant and be washed away in menstruation. The "moment of uterine implant" would seem to make much more medical sense. Using "moment of fertilization" as the touchstone would seem to outlaw Intra-Uterine Devices (which work by preventing implantation), and could even make a criminal out of a woman who failed to prevent the perfectly normal onset of menses. That is just silly.
8.31.2008 11:24am
Dave N (mail):
I am mildly pro-life (I would vote against the Colorado measure for the reason DiverDan mentioned). In my unscientific opinion, there is no problem with abortion before the fetal brain has activity. So I personally have no problems with IUDs, Morning After Pills, birth control, etc.

As to the logical coherence for an incest/rape exception for those who are pro-life, I look at it (particularly in the rape situation) as being a form of justifiable homicide. It is still one person killing another, but there is a justifiable reason for doing so.
8.31.2008 12:16pm
More than silly, the Colorado stunt is pretty much on scale with pi=3 legislation, just in biology instead of math. Once you understand the basic processes involved, there are huge problems with the personhood-from-fertilization not only from the scientific view, but blossoming drastically in scope from there.

The most immediate repercussion that I don't think the backers of that law are expecting is that it will make fertility clinics (and presumably visiting them out of state) illegal. Subsequent to that, once you follow that train to its logical conclusion, you can dictate everything a woman does to her body at any time on the basis of whether or not it would even affect her chances of implantation. Truly a nightmare.

That said, though, I note that even implantation is a silly point to take, scientifically. Developmentally, there is no mind to be a person in until at least 28 weeks, when synaptic connections begin to form. Theologically, you can't even have a unique soul, because identical twin splits can happen for as long as 14 days after implantation.
8.31.2008 12:22pm
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
Yes, if fertilization = personhood, then God causes millions of abortions each year that the mothers don't even know about. Let's put Him on trial for all those murders!
8.31.2008 12:29pm
I can't imagine the Colorado measure passing, just based on the expected turnout in the fall and Colorado's demographics. South Dakota, no guess at all.

Though I'm pro-choice, I've never been especially bothered by parental notification laws. My guess is that one passes narrowly.
8.31.2008 12:39pm
Cornellian (mail):
One could imagine any number of interesting and creative tax and property structuring scenarios in Colorado if that measure passes.
8.31.2008 2:48pm
T Hart:
I wonder how Colorado will deal with identical twins if their ballot initiative passes since monozygotic twins are formed sometime after fertilization.

Would they legally be considered one person? Or would the parents (or government) decide which one gets to be a person and which one has no legal status as a person?

Or maybe the mother would be guilty of illegally cloning a human being?
8.31.2008 4:36pm
Malvolio says “the pro-abortion position is just as inconsistent.” But there is no “pro-abortion position” in American politics. There is a pro-choice position shared by the great majority of Americans. Hardly anybody thinks that abortions are events we want to have more of, like high-school graduations, but most Americans agree that the decision to abort should be made by the woman and her doctor, not by the state.
8.31.2008 4:38pm
Diana Hsieh (mail) (www):
Colorado's Amendment 48 is FAR more aggressive than the South Dakota measure. It seeks to grant, via the state constitution, full legal rights of persons to fertilized eggs (!!). If implemented, it would affect the legality of abortion, birth control, medical research, and in vitro fertilization.

The Coalition for Secular Government just published an issue paper on it "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person" by Ari Armstrong and myself. It's available for download HERE

Diana Hsieh
Coalition for Secular Government
8.31.2008 4:41pm
Jerry F:
Isn't the Colorado initiative the most extreme by far? If the fetus is a person at the moment of conception, isn't having an abortion soliciting someone for murder (and conducting an abortion committing a premeditated murder)?
8.31.2008 4:47pm
This is a great way for the GOP to get killed.

Lefties have trouble accepting election results, which is why they prefer to legislate through the courts.

Now we'll see if right-to-lifers and conservatives will accept what's coming to them, or join with lefties in denouncing election results as evidence of ignorance and prejudice.
8.31.2008 4:47pm
MatthewM (mail):
ZedP is dead wrong. It is textbook biology that an independent human being is created at the moment of conception, with its own individual, personal genetic blueprint. Denying this is to deny one of the most basic scientific facts we know.

As for the issue of the fetus's lack of mental abilities at the time of conception (and for some time afterward), this is irrelevant to the issue of the mortality of abortion. A fetus is a developing human being; in time, if left alone, it will (barring accident or disease) develop the mental abilities that this argument presupposes are necessary to bestow human rights. As such, intentionally killing the developing entity is tantamount to kllling the developed entity; i.e., it is murder.

As for the issue of identical twins, this too is irrelevant to the morality of abortion. Killing an individual who later splits into two individuals is still murder.
8.31.2008 7:38pm

Lefties have trouble accepting election results, which is why they prefer to legislate through the courts.

Ah, yes, the classic liberal judicial activist argument. No matter how often it is proven that there are "activist" judges of both liberal and conservative ideology, the right will continue to milk this for all it's worth. Here's the truth: liberal judges "legislate" liberal positions, and conservative judges "legislate" conservative issues. Lori A. Ringhand, Judicial Activism: An Empirical Examination of Voting Behavior on the Rehnquist Natural Court, 24 Const. Comment. 43 (2007).
8.31.2008 7:49pm
Matthew M.,

Consider vanishing twin syndrome. A fetus is not a human being at conception or for some time afterwards. When it becomes human is a metaphysical issue.
8.31.2008 8:54pm
Cornellian (mail):
Isn't the Colorado initiative the most extreme by far? If the fetus is a person at the moment of conception, isn't having an abortion soliciting someone for murder (and conducting an abortion committing a premeditated murder)?

More interestingly, could a pregnant woman in Colorado be prosecuted for leaving the state, having an abortion in some jurisdiction where that is legal, then returning? Would it be conspiracy to commit murder if her husband drove her to the airport?
8.31.2008 9:12pm
Bill McGonigle (mail) (www):
There was some recent research that the rhythm method advocated by the Catholic Church causes more zygotes to be lost to non-implantation than birth control pills. There are many definitions of life, but nearly all of them involve the consumption of resources. Implantation neatly fits most descriptions.

It's silly to argue that it's not a human - what else is it, a zebra? A wookie? Of course it's a human, that's defined by the DNA. Is it guaranteed to survive? Nope, but neither are old people on their deathbeds or people in comas.

If our social contract is defined by 'all men are created equal' (not born equal) and we value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in that order, it's not possible to justify the taking of life for the benefit of liberty or happiness. I don't see how one can define a workable social contract that promotes liberty or happiness over life without necessarily forfeiting the first two.

Can the argument be made that no pain is felt in the absence of brainwave activity? Maybe, but we don't yet have the SQUID-type technology necessary to measure it and that measure fails to address the creation problem. One can embrace very early abortion and euthanasia and be morally consistent, but since the latter doesn't fit in our social contract neither does the former. It may be applicable to a society organized under different terms.
8.31.2008 10:16pm

It's silly to argue that it's not a human - what else is it, a zebra? A wookie? Of course it's a human, that's defined by the DNA.
It's not a human any more than an egg is a chicken.
8.31.2008 11:40pm
Jerry F:
Dan M: Here is the logic behind the rape exception, the way I see it. I believe, as a libertarian, that a woman has a right to her own body and no one can force her to carry a pregnancy to term against her will, even if this means the destruction of a human life. Hence, abortion is permissible in the case of rape. However, by consenting to sex and to the possibility of conceiving a child, a woman is waiving her right to do anything that she pleases with her body (at least to the extent that doing so would mean the destruction of a human life).

Similarly, if a homeowner finds a starving baby in front of his home, he is not required to feed him. But if the same homeowner kidnaps a baby and does not feed him, he would be liable for murder (as well as kidnapping).
9.1.2008 12:34pm
Bill McGonigle (www):

It's not a human any more than an egg is a chicken.

The chicken eggs we eat aren't fertilized.
9.2.2008 12:10pm
Deoxy (mail):
When it becomes human is a metaphysical issue.

No, it is a LEGAL issue, and it is the real issue being proxy-debated every time abortion comes up.

As such, I applaud Colorado for actually trying to touch on the real issue. Of course, I think their suggested solution is impractical for a great many reasons (several mentioned in this thread), but it's a start.

I've put a lot of thought into this issue, and I don't really have "the answer", but I'll give (what I hope are) some useful guidelines and pieces of information:

1. When life begins - there are several possibilities
-A. Fertilizaion - as pointed out, it is a unique human being at this point. As also pointed out, a great many zygotes are lost naturally.
-B. Implantation - much more workable than A, but many are still lost naturally. The earliest point that I would consider remotely reasonable.
-C. Second Trimester - the current de facto standard in many places, this position is somewhat nebulous and almost impossible to determine accurately (medically speaking)
-D. "not dead" - whatever you use to determine when life has ceased, use the same measures to determine when life begins. Besides the intellectual consistency, it is also (conveniently) a similar timeframe as C
-E. Viability - if they can live outside the womb, just take them out and put them up for adoption instead of killing them. Makes good sense, but is almost impossible to define and measure accurately in edge cases, not to the mention the medical bills invoilved in those edge cases.
-F. Birth - the ONLY thing this has going for it is the "bright line" concept: it's an easy standard to apply. Can result in heinous and obviously immoral acts (see the case of the pro-lifer who got an aborted fetus, with plans to document and properly bury it, who was raided by the police for infanticide... oh, this baby was killed in the womb instead of outside? ok, no crime. WTF?)

I would support B, D, or E, but D is really my favorite.

2. Rape/incest
-A. Incest - not relevant, but included because most people don't stop to think about non-statutory-rape incest. See next point
-B. Rape - I had a hard time with this exception for a while, too, but if you apply the "person drowning in a pool" analogy, if makes sense.
--If you walk by someone drowning in a pool, you have no legal obligation to risk yourself for their sake.
--If you PUSH someone into a pool, you are responsible for their condition
Consensual sex is both the man and the woman pushing the baby into the metaphorical pool - they are both responsible. Rape is just the rapist pushing the baby in, and (assuming the woman is the victim) the woman has no obligation to risk herself for the baby's sake. If the baby is aborted, this would count as an additional crime for the rapist.

Hope those thoughts help.
9.2.2008 1:46pm