When they go to the polls later this month, Georgia Republican voters will be asked their opinion on when human life begins, and what government must do to protect that life once it begins.
The question reads:
“Shall 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?”
The proposal, which is part of a national campaign, is called the “personhood amendment.” Resolutions proposing to write the amendment into the state constitution were introduced in both the state House and Senate last session, with the Senate version enjoying the sponsorship of Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, among others.
Similar legislation has been introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia. Among the 64 co-sponsors of the Sanctity of Human Life Act are U.S. Reps. Phil Gingrey, Lynn Westmoreland and Jack Kingston, all of Georgia.
“I know without any question that life begins when the spermatozoa, the sperm cell, enters the cell wall of the oocyte, the egg, and produces a one-celled human being called a zygote,” said Broun, a physician.
The advisory question was placed on the state GOP primary ballot in the hope that its probable approval by Republican voters would build momentum for the personhood amendment in the Legislature. According to Dan Becker, the head of Georgia Right to Life, approval would “send a clear message to all elected officials in the state that a majority of voters reject the current culture of death created by abortion on demand.”
As Becker suggests, approval of the personhood concept would mean the outlawing of all abortions, including those made necessary by rape or incest. A fertilized egg, no matter how it came into being, would be protected by law.
However, the consequences of the personhood movement go well beyond abortion. It would define a fertilized egg as a full human being, with all the legal rights inherent in being human.
For example, birth-control pills work in part by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus. If we define a fertilized egg as a human being, use of the pill would become tantamount to murder. The same is true of the intrauterine device, or IUD.
In effect, the personhood amendment would also outlaw in vitro fertilization as a treatment for infertility in Georgia. The treatment typically requires creation of more fertilized eggs than can be brought to birth; under the proposed amendment, every one of those eggs would have to be treated as a full human being, with criminal sanctions possible should any of them die. Such a law would make the treatment impractical and legally too risky in this state, and would deny thousands of Georgia couples the opportunity to become parents.
It would be, in other words, a major expansion of government intervention into a deeply private — indeed the most intimately private — sphere of human activity and relationships. Proponents of the measure nonetheless hope to get a large majority of Georgia Republicans on record as supporting such an intervention, and to leverage that statement into actual law.