Religious Leaders in Colorado Respond to the Egg-As-Person Amendment


The question of when life begins is an incredibly complex one with
enormous legal and ethical ramifications for contraception, abortion,
in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem cell research and the very
definition of our humanity.

Colorado voters will decide this thorny question in November.

On Thursday, the Colorado Secretary of State confirmed that proponents
of a controversial measure to confer constitutional rights on
fertilized human eggs exceeded the number of valid petition signatures
required to place the question on the general election ballot.

The ballot question will read:

Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Colorado:

SECTION 1. Article II of the constitution of the state of Colorado is
amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION to read:

Section 31. Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of
Article II of the state constitution, the terms "person" or "persons"
shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.


Before voters are inundated with months of campaigning, we put the
measure, now known as Proposed Amendment 48, to a very different test.

We asked a cross-section of religious scholars, clergy and spiritual
leaders – what moral precedent could this potential amendment set? – to
determine if there is uniformity on the theological definition of
personhood.

Rev. Dr. Phil Campbell, a member of The Interfaith
Alliance of Colorado Board of Directors, United Church of Christ
minister and Director of Ministry Studies at the Iliff School of
Theology in Denver

The ethical obligation and theological worldview
that is dominant in most religious traditions is caring for persons on
this side of birth.

The moral imperative is to commit ourselves to the care of the born
rather than divert our attention to a category of life that is scantily
attested to historically in any religious tradition. The moral issue
this amendment raises is the shift away from the concern regarding the
enormity of need of the born and the common ground that could be found
among various religious traditions to address those needs.

I do not know of a religious community that would support this
amendment – the view that life begins at fertilization – and supports
its proposed goal in their own religious practice. For instance,
adherents to the idea that life begins at fertilization (or conception)
do not expect a fetus to be named. Nor do they support invitro
baptismal ceremonies, naming ceremonies, or conduct burials for a
miscarried fetus according to their religious tradition as they would
for a person who has died. I believe there is a disconnect between what
proponents of this measure proclaim and what they actually practice.
This is a moral concern, as well as an ethical concern.

An amendment is not needed for religious communities to treat fetuses as human beings.


Rabbi Joel R. Schwartzman, president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council

Coloradans seeking to place the proposition on
the ballot that life begins at the moment of fertilization must of
necessity claim to have God on their side because they are seeking to
play God through their efforts.

Naming conception as the starting point for life is not a purely
arbitrary act. A fertilized egg may reach term and be born. There is
much that can happen along the way, not involving abortion, that can
negate this possibility.

For perhaps this very reason Rabbinic Judaism held that life begins
only at birth. That is the law within Jewish life to this day. The
rabbis had every bit as much claim to God in their decision as these
anti-abortion forces have the right to attempt to bring a plebiscite in
this state to say otherwise.

Without the question of abortion rights, however, this clearly wouldn’t
be a ballot issue, and we could all interpret God’s word in and for our
own lives without submitting it to a popular vote.


Rev. Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, a member of The Interfaith
Alliance of Colorado Board of Directors and Chair of TIA-CO’s Public
Policy Commission. He is also Minister of Social Responsibility at
Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden

One moral precedent I think this initiative
would set is that it would devalue all aspects of human life and moral
choices beyond genetics.

Defining a fertilized egg as a person essentially says that nothing
else counts about what we may think of as the essence of personhood -
not consciousness, thoughts, feelings, autonomy, capacity to love and
form relationships, creative imagination, a unique life history and
experience, or anything else.

A fertilized egg has none of these qualitlies – the only thing it has
in common with a person is human DNA. So in essence, this initiative
says that human beings are nothing more than DNA – nothing else matters
for a definition of personhood. By consequence, the existence of human
DNA overrides all other moral considerations of personhood.


Pastor Brent Cunningham, Spiritual Formation, Timberline Church in Fort Collins

We support the full and inherent dignity of
human beings across the lifespan. This is wholly consonant with the
biblical worldview; one does not suddenly gain or acquire moral status
at some stage in development. Human dignity or moral worth is inherent
or intrinsic, and is not "assigned" by someone external to us when we
reach their arbitrarily defined "state" of
development/maturity/functional capacity.

Here is the danger. If moral status (dignity) is tied to an arbitrary
definition of "personhood" (usually having to do with specific
functional capacities), as opposed to simply being human, then we head
down a road where we can just as easily "take it away" (moral worth).

We should wonder at the moral precedent have we set by "creating" the
concept of a "Human non-person" (i.e., that one can be a member of the
human species but not yet a person with full moral worth). This rather
nonsensical (as well as dangerous) concept is the issue that this
amendment seeks to rectify. And it does so by articulating a concept
that has a long tradition in Western moral philosophy.


Jann Halloran, minister of the Prairie Unitarian
Universalist Church of Parker, maternity unit counselor and member of
the Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

It feels like there is one religious perspective
but there’s not. It seems so monolithic to say that from the second an
egg is fertilized that this is now a person. And the woman that is
carrying that person is now enslaved to whatever happens next.

There is a lot of guilt with miscarriage. Every woman wonders, ‘What
did I do wrong?’ And now you’re saying it was a murder. It’s so cruel
and it’s so harsh.

To simply say that this is when life begins the second an egg is
fertilized is dancing on the head of a pin. None of us really knows and
we have to make the most complicated moral decisions we can make in the
best interest of our health, our families and the potential new life.

This issue is so rife with sexism. Religion and men telling women how
to live their lives, how to control their sexuality and how to control
their reproductive systems. They don’t give women the ethical agency
that we were born with to make these decisions.

It’s very scary. There are so many ramifications around birth control,
fertility and how women have to deal with these issues in their real
lives.

I don’t think there are grounds for this in the Christian or Jewish
tradition. Until a baby is born, you don’t know what you have. That
doesn’t mean that anything that happens before birth isn’t worthy of
tears or anger or celebration or fear. But until the incredible gift of
life is given and it comes out of the womb, that’s as reasonable and
moral a position of when life begins as when an egg is fertilized.

I also respect the passion of the religious right to hold very
different positions and that’s why I don’t want one particular position
in our constitution.


Rev. Patrick Hurley, president of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and retired pastor Presbyterian Church, Pueblo

The measure, proposed by Colorado for Equal
Rights, is a full-throttle attack on the religious and civil liberties
of all Coloradans.

We believe this measure would limit religious freedom by enshrining a
particular religious definition of life in the Colorado Constitution.
There is not a singular religious definition of life, despite what the
proponents of this measure would have Coloradans believe. This measure
is more than an attack on religious freedom, however. It is also a
serious threat to women’s health and women’s civil rights.

The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado believes the personhood amendment sets a dangerous moral precedent as well.

Our moral imperative is to commit ourselves to the care of the born.
This amendment shifts our attention away from the enormity of need of
poor and marginalized Coloradans and the common ground that could be
found among various religious traditions, political parties, and people
of goodwill across the state. We should create laws that promote the
common good and not narrow, extreme political and religious ideologies.

The Archdiocese of Denver, Islamic Center of Boulder and
Thubten Shedrup Ling/Buddhist Center did not return calls for comment.
No one was available to respond from the Assemblies of God Rocky
Mountain District Council, which recently endorsed the ballot measure.

Read part one of this continuing series – Origins of Personhood: Using ‘States Rights’ to Restrict Abortion and our ongoing reporting on the issue.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

  • invalid-0

    Has anyone conducted any polling to see if this insanity has any chance of passing?

    And if it passes, can the SCOTUS declare it unconstitutional (with respect to the U.S. Constitution) if someone brought a challenge to it?

  • invalid-0

    All those would-be parents out there who rely on in-vitro fertilization would have to travel elsewhere for the procedure if this idiocy were to pass, given the fact that IVF always means “discarded” embryos. It doesn’t always succeed on the first try, and these IVF doctors would, under this “amendment” be murderers.

    How outlandish these pro-fetus freaks have become. They only make the lives of others more difficult due to their arrogant and selfish foisting of their ludicrous views on everyone else. It doesn’t take much to see that this is more about their hatred of women than anything else.

  • invalid-0

    How were these speakers selected? By population? By availability? This article does not seem balanced.
    I notice that almost all the people consulted are not in favor of the legislation. I know that the Catholic Church would be. They’ve supported that and worse. For example, the Church supported the end of all legal abortions in Nicaragua and El Salvador by propagating the fiction that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life. Not all Catholics are so closed-eyed as that, but still.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be a bad thing for this legislation to be passed and it was very enlightening to read those opinions that are provided. I didn’t know that there were so many religious groups that did not support the idea of fertilization as the beginning of ensoulment. However, the fact that this article is so imbalanced means that I must trust it less than one that made more than a token effort to give both sides their chance to explain. I’ve heard plenty of Catholic arguments for life-begins-at-conception, but none from a strictly historical perspective, and I would have liked to.

  • invalid-0

    And the result of that? Rich people who can afford to travel out of state regularly can reproduce and poorer people cannot. I’m all for people having the children that they can afford, but that seems unnecessary, to put it kindly.
    I am more concerned with birth control, truthfully. The pill’s effectiveness in the lab matches that of preventing ovulation, but it is possible to mount an argument that it could prevent implantation.
    There probably is at least a subconscious misogyny going on here, or at least a certain level of discomfort with the changes that modern womanhood has brought to society. It’ll even out in a century or two. But I don’t think that this is primarily about hating women. I think that a bunch of politicians who don’t even know if THEY have souls are willing to pat the truly faithful on the head and say that blastocysts do to get their support.

  • invalid-0

    the article to the end. The Diocese didn’t respond. And that would be the “official” voice at this level.

  • invalid-0

    I will abstain from saying if this amendment should pass or not, but everyone should be aware that it is impossible for the State to be neutral on the question of when the life of an individual human being begins, or who qualifies to be a person.

    People claim that this amendment forces others to believe that life begins at fertilization, forgetting two things. First, no one can be forced to believe anything, the amendment only grants legal protection to humans at fertilization.

    Second, if this amendment forces one set of beliefs, then by that logic the current laws that permit abortion also force others to believe that human life begins at birth, which at the least, can be seen as a point that is as equally arbitrary and silly as fertilization (how does a trip a few inches down the birth canal transform someone into a person?).

    This amendment is a good idea because it can start thought provoking discussion on a crucial question, “are all human beings persons, and if not, who gets the right to live, and who doesn’t?” Neutrality isn’t an option, we have to pick a point, argue that it’s the beginning of human life and make our case. Let the side that has the best case win in November.

  • invalid-0

    For the sake of this discussion, let’s stipulate that a policy that “allows” something isn’t neutral. I’ll also grant you that a law doesn’t make anyone “believe” anything. But neutrality of a policy’s “belief” isn’t the issue. It’s not about “imposing beliefs” in terms of thought control. What’s at issue is the imposition of a narrow set of behaviors. In this case, the proposed amendment would not allow for a range of behaviors that reflect the plurality of beliefs about when life and personhood begins. A pro-choice public policy does not impose abortion on someone who believes that a conceptus/ embryo/fetus/baby needs to be protected from fertilization onward. This amendment–nor this discussion–is not just about “who gets to live.” It’s also about who will be forced to take what measures–even against her will as a person, even at risk of her health or life–in order to continue a pregnancy process, all in the interest of a potential person being born. Finally, that “insignificant trip” down the birth canal marks a very significant event: It’s when the fetus and woman’s existence go from being inextricably tied to one another, to two autonomous beings. All considered, that seems to me a very sufficient definition of personhood for public policy purposes. That’s when we as a community can rightly claim some ownership of the baby, and enforce measures to ensure its well-being: Because the balance has changed between the rights of a fetus vs. a woman’s rights to her person.

  • invalid-0

    And if this law were to pass, the consequences would reach far beyond just women’s reproduction. Much of our private property rights and labor laws are based on John Locke’s theory, the first tenet of which is a person has a natural/God-given right to his/her own body. Since a fetus is entirely encompassed by that person’s body until birth, this principal would have to be abandoned.

    Abandoning this principal would open the door to allowing enforcement of contracts by forced labor rather than monetary damage awards as one example.

    Is this a slippery slope argument? Perhaps, but one that needs to be dealt with. This amendment negates a bedrock principal that underlies much of American law. We mess with those at our peril.

  • invalid-0

    “This amendment–nor this discussion–is not just about “who gets to live.” It’s also about who will be forced to take what measures–even against her will as a person, even at risk of her health or life–in order to continue a pregnancy process…”

    I get what you’re saying Mark, and I think provisions should be made to protect the health of everyone involved, but I also believe in the RESPONSIBILITY of the women (and men) involved, not just in their rights. In a very crude sense, it boils down to arguing for the right not to take a dump after eating (assuming you’re not force-fed, to push a crude metaphor even further).

    Apologies to the babies of the world for comparing them to feces.

    And, let’s face it, if men had a procedure that was equivalent to abortion we’d be treated as monsters for even considering it and we’d be told to be responsible for our sexual conduct, regardless of the precautions we may have taken. Our culture promotes rampant sexuality but isn’t quite so big on responsibility. Protecting women- protecting PEOPLE- is certainly important, and the gender playing field has been skewed against women for all of history. But that doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. Protecting one marginalized group at the expense of another doesn’t get us very far, ethically speaking.

    One of the most offensive episodes of my life was having my miscarried child treated as medical waste. I like the idea of a fertilized egg being a person, regardless of developmental timelines or what ceremonies have or haven’t taken place. If, as a culture, we treated our reproductive nature with more respect and even a sense of the sacred, maybe we wouldn’t have been so keen to marginalize women and treat their bodies as battlefields in the first place.

  • mellankelly1

    …but I also believe in the RESPONSIBILITY of the women (and men) involved, not just in their rights.

    How is choosing to end an unwanted pregnancy any less responsible than choosing to gestate an unwanted pregnancy?  Over half of all women who have abortions were using some method of contraception during the month that they became pregnant… were they not attempting to be responsible?  Bottom line is when faced with an unwanted pregnancy women will consider their current family obligations, their economic status and their relationship with their mate along with any other facts relevant to their particular situation before deciding whether or not to continue an unwanted pregnancy… this is the very definition of responsible.

     I like the idea of a fertilized egg being a person, regardless of developmental timelines or what ceremonies have or haven’t taken place

    Nobody is claiming that you cannot treat your fertilized eggs (or those of your mate) as persons; however, you simply cannot force your personal idea’s and/or beliefs onto another person.

    If, as a culture, we treated our reproductive nature with more respect and even a sense of the sacred, maybe we wouldn’t have been so keen to marginalize women and treat their bodies as battlefields in the first place. 

    The only people who wish to relegate women to an unimportant or marginalized position are those who are actively fighting to take away the rights of pregnant women.

  • invalid-0

    Henry, I agree that rights come with responsibility. Your comments underscore the complexity of this issue. That is why I argue above against rigid policies in these situations: they are complex, and our civi responsibility to one another is to allow for these very personal, very significant, variation in our experiences.
    I’m very sorry to hear about your loss. What I would wish for in such situations is for the medical professionals involved to cooperate fully with the family in defining its own experience, and in pursuing whatever course of action it deems appropriate to facilitate healing.

  • invalid-0

    “Bottom line is when faced with an unwanted pregnancy women will consider their current family obligations, their economic status and their relationship with their mate along with any other facts relevant to their particular situation before deciding whether or not to continue an unwanted pregnancy… this is the very definition of responsible.”

    One could argue that the ability to accept and cope with what one has ALREADY done is another definition of responsible.
    Substitute the word “child” for “pregnancy” and “current family obligations” takes on a whole new meaning.

    And OF COURSE beliefs can be forced, at least in a legal sense… much the way blacks were formerly considered 3/5 of a person in the U.S. constitution for legal, accounting and census purposes. This seems ridiculous now, because the document that once prescribed this legal “belief” now prescribes full legal personhood to these formerly marginalized (and enslaved) folks. It’s something of a necessity for a democracy to decide who is a participant within it and who is not and who will be protected from the particular actions of others.

    “The only people who wish to relegate women to an unimportant or marginalized position are those who are actively fighting to take away the rights of pregnant women.”
    What? This makes it sound like a pro-life stance is not only the most serious offense against womankind, but the ONLY one. That’s just not true.
    Further, I have nothing but respect for women- enough to think that their ability to sustain, grow, and nurture life should be treated as something amazing and life-affirming, not inconvenient and life-ending.
    I realize that the beginning of life is a murky area, and any measure feels arbitrary to those who don’t agree with it. A fetus is highly dependent on it’s mother as a host, I realize that, but if we take a systems view of the world (any environmentalists in the house?)- one in which we’re all interconnected and the individuals are all dependent on the health of the whole (as well as the whole dependent on the individuals), then these dependent little conceptions become a great measure of how we’re willing to treat the world as a whole.

  • mellankelly1

    One could argue that the ability to accept and cope with what one has ALREADY done is another definition of responsible.

    Deciding that having an abortion is the best option for you is "accepting and coping with" an unwanted pregnancy so I’m not understanding your point.  It is completely irresponsible to gestate and give birth if, after careful consideration, a woman decides that this is something that she does not believe would be in her best interest.  If you are unclear about the definition of responsible, it is deciding for oneself between right and wrong.  Some women decide that abortion is right for them and some women decide that abortion is wrong for them (they’re both being responsible).

    Substitute the word "child" for "pregnancy" and "current family obligations" takes on a whole new meaning.

    Thank you for proving my point… that is precisely why women terminate their "pregnancies"… so that there wont be another "child" to consider if she is already having difficulty keeping up with her "current family obligations."

     And OF COURSE beliefs can be forced, at least in a legal sense… much the way blacks were formerly considered 3/5 of a person in the U.S. constitution for legal, accounting and census purposes.

    Where is your outrage and indignation when anti-abortion forces are actively fighting to take away women’s rights… if the law controls our bodies, it will effectively be violating it’s most basic responsibility to us (which would be slavery).

     This makes it sound like a pro-life stance is not only the most serious offense against womankind, but the ONLY one.  That’s just not true.

    I’m not entirely sure what you’re trying to say here but considering that you were responding to this quote by me "The only people who wish to relegate women to an unimportant or marginalized position are those who are actively fighting to take away the rights of pregnant women."  I would appreciate it if you could please prove to me how taking away the basic rights of pregnant woman is not relegating them to an unimportant or marginalized position?

    Further, I have nothing but respect for women- enough to think that their ability to sustain, grow, and nurture life should be treated as something amazing and life-affirming, not inconvenient and life-ending

    That is lovely for you.  It’s too bad that you don’t speak for all women.  Some women have horrifying, life threatening pregnancies (and they should be able to decide whether or not to continue them), some women do not wish to become pregnant and have taken measures to prevent pregnancy which for whatever reason failed (and they should be able to decide whether or not to continue their pregnancy); whatever the circumstances, each woman is perfectly capable of deciding what course to take and I’m sorry to break it to you, but your opinions mean less than nothing to them.  Whatever you feel the experience of being pregnant should be is completely and utterly irrelevant to a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy (the only feelings that matter are hers).

    then these dependent little conceptions become a great measure of how we’re willing to treat the world as a whole

    No, they don’t.

  • invalid-0

    “whatever the circumstances, each woman is perfectly capable of deciding what course to take and I’m sorry to break it to you, but your opinions mean less than nothing to them. Whatever you feel the experience of being pregnant should be is completely and utterly irrelevant to a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy (the only feelings that matter are hers).”

    Thank you Mellankelly1 for that comment. One of the very reasons I become frustrated with these issues, is the need for men to assume that they do have or should have a voice in this issue “at large”, and more importantly a voice in any given woman’s needs.

    You cannot imagine how offensive it is to me to be told what to feel by a man, who cannot be pregnant, has not faced an unwanted OR wanted pregnancy, who does not have to put his very life on the line, or simply have to face the social world as a “pregnant person” (imagine being a 15 year old highschool girl who is pregnant and everyone knows it. or an up and comming political player who is not married and finds herself pregnant at 30 right in teh middle of her first real race).

    You cannot imagine how offensive it is to me to be told that I am wonderful cause I can have a baby (that i never want), not because i have a brain, or am a wiz at engineering, or translate such beautiful words. You cannot imagine how offensive it is to be “evaluated” by some man based on a function of my body no better or worse than the act of having sex or as was pointed out “taking a doodoo”.

    So my physical body can make babies. Goodie for me. BUT I DO NOT CARE, and if I get pregnant, and when i got pregnant, a did not want to be a mother, did not want to sacrifice the schooling i was in for an unwanted child. I wanted to be someone based on teh work I put into my life, not based on teh fact that I was “endowed” with the amazing ability (like 1/2 of all living things) to have a baby.

    Life is not that special. MY life, however *is* that special, **to me**. Is that selfish? Of course. But laws like this deny me the very right to be selfish, while allowing anyone who doesn’t have the same biology, to be just as selfish as they want. the very core of the anti-child movements are both overtly and insidiously “anti-women”, if not actually misogynist.

    My life is not about the life I could produce. and there is nothing wrong with saying that in the 21st century.

  • invalid-0

    You can’t hear it, Tanya Political Junky, but I’m standing and cheering.

  • http://marycollingscf.co.uk/ invalid-0

    Great post. I found this a very informative and well written article.

  • invalid-0

    Beyond the disturbing idea of removing control from women in the already sensitive and (even in the best pregnancies with support from family, friends, and the father of the child) often frightening prospect of nine months of pregnancy and the subsequent years of care for the resulting child, my greatest fear in cases trying to restrict abortion is to what lengths desperate women who find themselves pregnant will go to get around the law. Pregnancies have been ended for centuries, generally with great physical danger if not actual harm to the woman, and the desire and need for abortions will not disappear because of some new legislation. Making abortion illegal will not end the practice of abortion, it will simply make it more dangerous because it will be unregulated.