Kate at Broadsheet wrote today about a legislative bill that recently passed the house in North Dakota and is on its way to the Senate. The bill defines a fertilized egg as a human being, granting them the same Constitutional protection that you and I have.
Rep. Dan Ruby, sponsor of the measure, says, "This is very simply defining when life begins, and giving that life some protections under our Constitution -- the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Well, he's right that it's a very simple definition of when life begins. Unfortunately, the question is tremendously complicated, no matter how forcefully you insist that it isn't.
Kate refers to 12 questions that Feministe posted for pro-lifers who believe that life begins at conception. The questions are immensely complicated, and I don't think any pro-lifer who thinks life begins at conception can answer them. For example, would a fertilized egg get a Social Security number? How will we track how many citizens there are? How will we track the death rate, since a large percentage of fertilized eggs don't implant themselves in the uterine wall? I especially like these:
3. Should every “human” death be investigated? If so, how? As it stands, if a person dies (and especially if they’re found dead), there’s often some sort of investigation, especially if there’s reason to believe that another person caused their death. So, first, how do we recover all the “bodies” of the fertilized egg-people? Do we insist on checking every pad and tampon for evidence of human life? Every pair of panties? Every toilet bowl? And if we find a fertilized egg, should the police be called? I mean, if you find a baby in a dumpster, you call the police. If you find a used tampon in the trash, should you do the same thing? If a woman goes to the hospital for a miscarriage, should she be investigated as a potential murderer or child abuser? Should there be laws about the proper disposal of dead egg-bodies, the way that there are laws regulating the disposal of born human bodies?
4. Pro-lifers claim to value each and every human life, from the moment of conception. That’s why, they say, they want abortion to be illegal — because it kills a person. And there are indeed a lot of abortions. But the abortion rate pales in comparison to the rate of fertilized eggs that don’t implant and “die” by being naturally flushed out of the body. Yet there is not a single pro-life organization (at least that I can find) dedicated to finding a solution to this widespread, deadly epidemic. The “death rate” of unimplanted fertilized egg-persons almost certainly far exceeds the abortion rate and the death rate from AIDS combined. Why the silence? Why no mass protests or funding drives or pushes for research?* Where is the concern for the fertilized egg-people?
6. What responsibilities and legal consequences should pregnant women face? Should Child Protective Services be able to step in if a pregnant woman does something that could potentially damage the fetus — like eat tuna or drink coffee or exercise heavily? What if a woman isn’t pregnant, but makes her body inhospitable to a fertilized egg — say, for example, that she uses birth control, which thins the uterine lining and makes it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant? What if she’s anorexic? Some anorexics may be able to ovulate, but may not be able to sustain a pregnancy, or even have enough nutrients to allow for implantation. Can such a woman be prosecuted or otherwise punished for creating an environment that was deadly for an egg-child? What if a pregnant woman had a miscarriage, and it could be linked to some behavior — going skiing or flying or not eating properly? We already prosecute pregnant women when they use drugs during their pregnancies. If a pregnant woman otherwise does harm to her fetus, should she be prosecuted for child abuse? Neglect? If she miscarries, can she be tried for homicide?
There are plenty of people who want to pass legislation that defines a fertilized egg as a person so that they can make abortion illegal. It's impossible. These questions cannot be answered, and if fertlized eggs were to be legally defined as people, we'd most likely have a police state that will have to monitor every pregnant woman (or possibly every woman's) daily behavior. I'd like do see the representatives who voted on the North Dakota bill answer all of the questions posed by Feministe, but I'll bet they can't.