Politics should not dictate when life begins

By Michael Hardcastle
On October 30, 2011

A proposed constitutional amendment will ask voters in Mississippi next week, "Should the term ‘person' be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?"

Meanwhile, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), in a ruling relating to stem-cell research, stated this month that life essentially begins at the moment of fertilization.

Should the Mississippi proposition pass, it would define personhood as beginning at conception. Abortion advocates see this as a red flag, as recognizing the unborn as people would make abortion effectively illegal.

While the legal ramifications of such an amendment would be far reaching, the actual ballot question should not be so contentious. When an egg is fertilized, a distinct life is created containing a wholly unique set of DNA that is no more the mother's than it is the father's. Therefore, that is when life begins. This is not a political, ethical or religious statement, but simply a matter of science.

It is not unreasonable for a state to recognize scientific reality. That's exactly what the ECJ did when it banned patenting stem-cell research techniques that destroy human embryos. The court defined a human embryo as a fertilized egg if the fertilization commences "the process of development of a human being," according to a European Union press release.

The ruling only deals with patents and does not actually ban stem-cell research or abortion, but pro-life groups see it as a hopeful sign. The Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, a Catholic group, said on its website, the ruling meant the human embryo, "must be considered a human being with potential, and not just a ‘potential human being.'"

Even if Mississippi, or any other state considering a similar amendment, recognizes the personhood of the unborn, the personhood of mothers should not be ignored. Too often in the abortion debate, people focus just on the mother or just on the unborn. If both mother and child are people, then both must be protected.

Any means of making abortion illegal will only solve half the problem. There is a motivation behind every abortion, be it economic, social or emotional. In addition to legislation such as this, governments should do more to help pregnant women who choose adoption or keep their children despite challenges.

Many believe the two sides are too deeply entrenched for abortion to ever end, but others believe things can change, as evidenced by the 600 anti-abortion bills proposed in various states this year alone, according to data from the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Opinions can change. Norma McCorvey - better known as Jane Roe, the plaintiff of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision - fought for the right to an abortion and helped make it legal in the U.S. Since then, however, she has become a fierce anti-abortion advocate. In 2009, she was kicked out of Congress for protesting during the confirmation hearing of a pro-choice justice. She even joined a petition to have the Roe v. Wade decision overturned, according to ABC News.

If Roe herself can change her mind, others may change too. Until then, respect must be given to the lives of children and mothers.

Michael Hardcastle is a senior majoring in creative writing.

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