hio voters at the polls next fall might get to decide if a fertilized egg should be considered a person from the moment of conception.
Just before 2011 ended, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified a controversial petition that calls for a proposed constitutional amendment submitted by Personhood Ohio, an anti-abortion group.
The proposed “personhood amendment” wouldn’t just ban and criminalize abortions in Ohio, but would also give a fertilized egg all the legal and constitutional rights of a person.
DeWine rejected the original petition in October, stating the summary failed to be “fair and truthful.” Personhood organizers now will need to collect 385,000 valid voter signatures to put the issue on the ballot for the next election. Similar amendments were voted down Colorado in 2008 and 2010, and in Mississippi this past November. Some political observers believe DeWine approved the measure to help drive up the number of social conservatives voting during an election year and defeat President Obama.
As a mother of two children, Healthy Families Ohio spokeswoman Sandy Theis explains she absolutely appreciates and values infant life, but she also says some people can go too far, breaching rationality. Theis calls the proposal the most extreme assault on women’s health-care in Ohio she’s ever seen.
Besides halting a woman’s right to choose, the amendment would outlaw many commonly used types of birth control including oral contraceptives, the morning after pill and certain types of IUDs, Theis says. The petition’s wording would only allow for “genuine birth control” that would prevent the sperm from meeting the egg, including condoms, diaphragms and withdrawal. Also, the petition allows no exception for victims of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.
“Shouldn’t we instead be focusing our resources on prevention and improving the health and well-being of the moms and the babies?” Theis asks.
For mothers desperate to have children, in vitro fertilization (IVF) would also become a casualty if the amendment is passed, as doctors would choose to avoid liability, she adds. While the amendment touts the procedure would still be legal, Theis notes destroying any of the fertilized eggs used in the procedure would be considered murder under the amendment. As doctors fertilize multiple eggs as part of the procedure, Theis questions what doctors and parents then do with the remaining eggs; implanting all ten or so that are fertilized is a crazy and ridiculous notion.
“And what do you do — do you have octomoms running all over America because we’re forced to implant every fertilized egg?” Theis says. “There’s not much more of a danger from carrying a single baby and twins, but once you get into multiples it can be really, really dangerous for the mom and the babies.”
On the other side of the debate, amendment organizer and Zanesville family physician Patrick Johnston says opponents exaggerate the effects that the amendment would have on limiting birth control and IVF.Scientifically, there’s no solid evidence the morning after pill or oral contraceptives destroy life, leaving them completely unaffected by the amendment, Johnston says.
In the case of IVF, the procedure would remain legal but the practice of intentionally destroying or experimenting on fertilized eggs would be criminalized, he says. In cases where a mother’s life is threatened, he says priority would always be given to save the mother, but if the fetus could live outside the womb in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, all attempts should be made to save that infant’s life.
From a physician’s perspective, Johnston says many times doctors will put their fear of liability before a patient’s request. He says in cases of cancer or other serious conditions that arise in pregnant women, doctors often request a therapeutic abortion before administering treatments even if the pregnant woman wants to keep her baby. Too often, doctors fear lawsuits from potentially harming or deforming the infant while administering chemotherapy or other drugs.
“So it’s not about protecting the mother’s life in that instance, it’s about protecting the doctor from lawsuits,” Johnston says. “And that’s the case with most surgeons; most therapeutic abortions are to protect a physician, not to save the mother’s life.”
In addition to advocating the Ohio Personhood Amendment, Johnston is the founder and director of the Association for Prolife Physicians. The site lists about 120 physicians as supporters, generally sparsely dispersed throughout the United States, although Ohio has the majority at 42. Of those listed, less than 20 throughout the nation are OBGYN physicians.
Gary Dougherty, Planned Parenthood’s state legislative director, says if the amendment passed, it would have a “devastating” effect on the majority of Ohio physicians. During testimony for the so-called “heartbeat bill” (which would establish infant life at the first detectible heartbeat), Dougherty says all Ohio doctors who came forward to testify said they would definitelyleave the state if the bill passed.
“If we actually had a personhood amendment added to our constitution, I think the effect to the medical profession in our state would be profound,” he says.
Additionally, Dougherty notes the proposed amendment — which is shrouded in ambiguity — lends itself to a near limitless amount of legal interpretation. Just to see how convoluted the amendment may become, Dougherty says he conducted an online search for the word “person” in both the Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Administrative Code and came up with more than 15,000 hits. If a pregnant woman is defined as more than one person, he says everything changes from measuring population for legislative districts to potentially charging a pregnant woman for multiple admissions to sporting events as, technically, there are at least two or possibly more people.
The amendment is clearly unconstitutional, he says, and if passed will waste millions of Ohio taxpayer dollars as it will be continuously challenged in the court system using funds that could be better spent addressing more pressing issues.
“Ask eight and a half percent of the workforce who are at home trying to find a job if this is the number one item that needs the state government’s attention right now. The answer would be a resounding ‘no.’ ”