No Love for Zygotes

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Fertilized eggs are not people.
So no constitutional rights for you.

This November, voters statewide may decide if human zygotes will have the same constitutional protections as living, breathing people who go to work, put off cleaning the house and futilely try to score on the weekends.

For those of you who snoozed through biology class, zygotes are the cells that result from the joining of egg and sperm — either by doing the hokey-pokey with a loved one, availing yourself of a sturdy turkey baster and a good friend, or the more scientific in-vitro fertilization process.

But not all zygotes become babies. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimate that up to fifty percent of fertilized eggs never implant in the uterine wall, because nature is fickle like that. And that’s where the whole notion of this state-ballot measure to confer legal rights on eggs gets scrambled.

Last summer, Colorado for Equal Rights was given the go-ahead to collect petition signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2008 ballot asking Colorado voters to decide if a fertilized egg is a person. A Supreme Court challenge by reproductive-rights activists attempting to block the measure was denied last fall, allowing CER to move forward with getting the requisite 76,000 signatures of registered voters on their petitions.

CER is the brainchild of Kristi Burton, a twenty-year-old student enrolled at the unaccredited Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy, an online law school that caters to religious home-schoolers. However, Burton’s curriculum goes well beyond a dry recitation of torts and trials. According to the school’s promotional material: Students reject “the faith of evolution and the religion of secular humanism” and should “pursue Godly wisdom by memorizing and meditating upon God’s word, the Bible, and seek to use this wisdom in resolving conflicts, developing strategies, and implementing policy.”

That’s all well and good, and Burton is certainly free to pursue an education that conforms to her own worldview. However, the last time I checked, the good ol’ US of A is not a theocracy. Believing that our laws are based on Scripture (or should be) doesn’t make it so.

Burton’s attempt to promote religious dogma as constitutional law is ethically wrong and completely out of step with the American public. A 2006 Pew Forum poll found that six in ten people said that the Bible shouldn’t influence public law.

Which brings us to the horrific idea of Bible-toting, pink- and blue-clad Pregnancy Police investigating cases of “menstruation massacres” by combing through used tampons for evidence of naturally shed fertilized eggs by which to convict women of zygote-icide. Heaven help you if you face an overzealous Larimer County DA, as Tim Masters can certainly attest.

As ridiculous, and positively revolting, as that sounds, there are some very legitimate reasons why this measure should not pass.

While Burton claims her aim is simply to ban abortion, CER spokesman and fellow Oak Brook Law grad, Mark Meuser, boasts the measure is also intended to outlaw contraception. While the group has since backpedaled on those claims, it’s very much in keeping with the ultra-conservative religious fervor of Burton and pals.

In short, if this measure passes, say goodbye to birth-control pills, IUDs and hormone-based contraception that alters the uterine lining, making it more difficult for an egg to implant. Remember, the proposed law focuses on the joining of egg and sperm, not the true scientific definition of pregnancy — when the zygote implants and luxuriates in a pool of hormones. If the fertilized egg doesn’t land on fertile territory, has the woman committed murder?

Say sayonara to in-vitro fertilization. Instead, unused eggs would be kept on ice indefinitely or labs would be subject to murder charges. And bid farewell to embryonic stem-cell research that promises hope to millions of people fighting diabetes, Parkinson’s and other chronic diseases. The cells will no longer be available, and researchers would be subject to arrest for homicide. So would women who miscarry be booked for involuntary manslaughter?

Which makes this coming Valentine’s Day especially important. If a woman got pregnant on February 14, her approximate due date would be November 21 — two weeks after Election Day, when voters could decide that zygote Americans are people, too.

This commentary was originally published in the Rocky Mountain Chronicle.

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