No, really, my reproductive organs are only about 12 inches away from my heart. I care a great deal about what happens to them.
So, apparently, do a host of other conservative politicians who have popped out of the woodworks in the past year or so. In fact, I’d say they care a little too much.
And in the wake of the Republican National Convention, I see the obsession with my ovaries coming to the forefront once again.
The left-leaning side has for some time thrown around the phrase “War on Women” to describe the bevy of anti-abortion, anti-contraception and anti-preventative care legislation that has been tangling up state legislatures all across the country over the past couple of years. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I will say that there’s a dangerous political paradigm of patriarchy that seems to be catching on faster than the latest viral video.
Of course, sooner or later, I knew that Georgia would get its fair share of the controversy.
Which is why I must say that I was disappointed, but not overly surprised, to see that my fellow voters of Walker County overwhelmingly said yes to the so-called “personhood” referendum question on the Republican primary ballot on July 31.
The thankfully non-binding question reads: “Should the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the paramount right to life is vested in each innocent human being from his or her earliest biological beginning without regard to age, race, sex, health, function, or condition of dependency?”
Translated into plain English, it says “Should Georgia’s constitution have an amendment tacked on to it which states that life begins at conception?”
The overwhelming conservative response to this is, of course, yes. It sounds like a way to prevent abortions and save lots and lots of cuddly, innocent babies.
I beg of you to reconsider. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that. This ballot referendum is exceedingly dangerous, and its implications go far, far beyond abortion.
On the surface, a referendum worded like this one is designed to gauge the general voters’ feelings about abortion. (It’s also worded to confuse the voter, but that’s a whole other issue.) Thankfully, this particular referendum is non-binding, and is meant as a litmus test of opinion rather than an attempt at public ratification. That doesn’t mean that the Georgia legislature has to abide by the prevailing public opinion, but it doesn’t mean that they have to not abide by it either.
So even though the majority of Georgians voted yes on the question, that doesn’t mean that the legislature will move forward with a “personhood” amendment. And even if the overwhelming vote had been no, they could still draft an amendment regardless.
No matter how the legislature treats the results, it is our duty as citizens to be fully informed, and to show our representatives that we are overwhelmingly opposed to such a ridiculous notion. Because the implications for such an amendment should it be drafted and pass the Georgia House and Senate are nothing short of ridiculous.
Ignoring the abortion bit for a moment, the added mention of age, health, function and condition of dependency are scary enough in and of themselves. Those words echo the Terri Schiavo case of the early 2000s, where a Florida husband’s attempts at a compassionate end to the life of his brain-dead wife were halted by numerous government interventions, including a last-minute piece of legislation by then-President George W. Bush. All this after the local court had determined that keeping Schiavo alive in a persistent vegetative state would have been against her wishes and ordered her feeding tube removed. Terri Schiavo was all but physically dead for fifteen years; it took nearly half of that time for her husband Michael to win the right to do what only a loving husband could, for she was clearly not coming back to him.
If the Georgia legislature passes an amendment worded like the referendum question, a man in Michael Schiavo’s case would be unable to even ask to do the right thing for his wife. A woman in Terri Schiavo’s case would be kept alive, indefinitely and ineffectively, at ever-increasing costs to her family, her hospital and her community.
Now, for the implications at the other end of the spectrum. Should Georgia’s constitution be amended as the referendum question suggests, then the population of Georgia could legally double overnight. Every pregnant woman would count as two people on a census.
Even fertility clinics could be shut down. Couples struggling to have biological children would just be out of luck. Fertility doctors don’t just make one zygote to implant in a woman trying to get pregnant – they make as many as they can, in order to increase her chances. (How do you think Octomom happened?) With the “personhood” referendum, every fertilized egg that dies or is disposed of by these clinics might legally be counted as murder.
Let’s stop for a minute to let that sink in. You and I could be counted the exact same, legally, as something microscopic, something that cannot survive on its own outside of a host, something that they cryofreeze, for crying out loud. You can’t cryofreeze a person. (Well, you can, but you just can’t bring him back. Sorry, Ted Williams.)
Let me tell you something about fertilized eggs. They die all the time, naturally. The vast majority of all human fertilized eggs pass out of women’s’ bodies without anyone being the wiser. It is only rarely that they implant, that they latch on and start to grow, and it is only then that pregnancy begins. There is no pregnancy test in the world that can tell if a woman is carting around a fertilized egg, because there is chemically no difference whatsoever in her body. Only after implantation occurs do the levels of human growth hormone – what pregnancy tests look for –increase at all. And even then it takes a few weeks for them to reach measurable levels.
Let's put it this way: if any and all fertilized eggs are "persons," then most sexually-active women are unknowingly committing "murder" each month.
That's just plain ridiculous.
Still, although potential census changes and a ban on fertility clinics are sad and unnecessarily silly, they are not life-threatening. Other potential implications are.
Women suffering from ectopic pregnancies – fertilized eggs that implant in the fallopian tubes instead of in the uterus – which are incredibly dangerous and in fact occur in approximately 1 out of every 50 pregnancies, could be out of luck, as the emergency surgery necessary to remove the embryo and save the woman’s life could no longer be legally performed.
Stem cell research, which creates life-saving medical breakthroughs from cells taken out of human fertilized eggs? Forget about it.
Oh, and of course, women couldn’t legally get abortions anymore. Would that stop them? Please. Prohibition didn’t stop drinking; it just drove it underground. Should such an amendment happen, then those women who don’t drive across the state line to get the care they need will resort to more dangerous methods – home remedies, coat hangers, throwing themselves down stairwells. Logically speaking, this could easily drive up the number of emergency room visits, not to mention their cost to taxpayers. And for those women who go on to bear their unwanted children, it’s not unfair to say that a good many of them will be drawing more and more welfare to compensate for unplanned-for, unsupportable offspring.
Stop me if I’m wrong, but none of this sounds like what the Republican Party wants.
Now, do I expect any sort of state constitutional amendment to actually happen? No, of course not. Other states – Colorado, Ohio, Mississippi – have already tried it and failed. And that’s perhaps the worst part: not that the legislature is asking something so ridiculous, but that they’re wasting their time, and ours, on such a nonsensical notion as “personhood.” If legislators want to help their constituents, if they are truly concerned about the health and well-being of infants and children and hope to see abortion rates go down, then they should be doing the exact opposite of asking such silly referendum questions and attempting to de-fund Planned Parenthood. They should be encouraging better sex education. They should be passing legislation to help provide better access to contraception. They should be making it easier for women and men to be better informed, better prepared and better able to postpone having children until such time as they are ready to do so.
I urge you to adamantly oppose any future attempts by the Georgia legislature to enact any sort of “personhood” amendment. Show your representatives that you find their obsession with women’s’ bodies a ludicrous waste of time.
I don’t mean to disrespect anyone’s convictions, but a fertilized egg is not a baby. A baby can live and breathe on its own, outside of a host. Babies can be held and cared for and taught. They are the ones who need protection, not the myriad of fertilized eggs, most of which never come to fruition anyway. Children who are born to too-young or un-ready parents, or to a woman coerced into carrying to term an infant that she didn’t want, that she is financially or emotionally unable to care for – those are the ones who need protection.
In a recent TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk given by Melinda French Gates, the wife of the technology mogul described time she spent with a women’s group in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. The words of one impoverished mother as she was describing her need and desire for birth control, stuck with her. “I want to bring every good thing to this child before I have another,” the woman said.
If and when I ever have children, I want them to come from a place of love and readiness, not accident and obligation. I want to be prepared – physically, mentally, emotionally and fiscally – to give each child “every good thing.” All children deserve at least that much respect. And, contrary to the caustic comments by one Missouri senate candidate, so do the women who bear them.
Christi McEntyre is a reporter with the Walker County Messenger. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (706) 638-1859.