Sunday, January 20, 2008

Unintended Consequences?

My adopted state of Georgia is considering an amendment to the state constitution. I quote from the Georgia General Assembly website:

Paragraph XXIX. Paramount right to life. (a) The rights of every person shall be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. The right to life is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person.

(b) With respect to the fundamental and inalienable rights of all persons guaranteed in this Constitution, the word 'person' applies to all human beings, irrespective of age, race, sex, health, function, or condition of dependency, including unborn children at every state of their biological development, including fertilization.

Now, the obvious intent of this amendment is to make abortion illegal – in fact, it would immediately include abortion under the definition of premeditated murder. I have to wonder, however, if the proponents of this amendment have fully considered the other consequences of the wording. I’m not a lawyer, of course, but it seems to me that under this amendment:

  • Engaging in some action that causes a miscarriage could be charged as involuntary manslaughter, even if the woman didn’t previously know she was pregnant. That could apply to any number of women in highly physical professions – notably including members of the military, police forces, and fire departments.
  • Any pregnant woman who has an alcoholic drink is guilty of child endangerment, providing alcohol to a minor, and child abuse. This could also be charged retroactively – a woman who drinks every weekend could be charged with eight separate counts of those crimes when she discovers she is two months pregnant.
  • Likewise, a pregnant woman who smokes is guilty of child endangerment and child abuse – again, potentially retroactively.
  • Intra-uterine devices, which are designed to prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall, would be illegal. Putting one in and then having sex might be chargeable as murder. It goes without saying that the “morning after pill” would be equally restricted.
  • The wording also seems a little unclear – it could be argued that this amendment protects the unborn child even during the act of fertilization itself. This would make ANY form of birth control equivalent to murder.

This amendment would also have interesting effects on Living Wills and other “right to death” issues – if the “inviolable,” “paramount,” and “most fundamental” right is life, then it seems unlikely that anyone could choose to take actions to end a life, no matter how heroic the measures required to continue it. But the consequences I find most interesting are the ones surrounding embryos – it seems that they would serve to sharply curtail various rights that women have taken for granted for decades, while affecting men slightly, if at all. Remember that this was written by professional lawmakers, with staff available to analyze these issues. I suppose it is possible that all these consequences to women are unintended…but I don’t really believe it.