What are the legal ramifications of a bill passed by the Oklahoma House that gives “inalienable rights” to persons at “the state of fertilization or conception”?
House Bill 1571, sponsored by state Rep. Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City, defines “person” in the following way:
. . . “person” means a human being at all stages of human development of life, including the state of fertilization or conception, regardless of age, health, level of functioning, or condition of dependency.
The short, terse bill, which recently passed the House in a landslide 74-2 vote, goes on to point out:
All persons are created free and have inalienable rights.
Here are some legal questions the bill raises:
(1) What does this mean in terms of abortion? Would it essentially make abortions illegal here since a fertilized egg, right at the point of conception, would have as many rights as anyone else? Doesn’t the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Roe v. Wade case mean states can’t make abortion illegal? Wouldn’t this bill essentially be struck down as unconstitutional? Would the state have to defend the bill in court? How much in taxpayer money would it cost?
(2) What if a female has a fertilized egg right at the moment of conception, and she doesn’t know it? Does the embryo have legal protection anyway? If a female unintentionally hurt a fertilized egg that she didn’t know about would she be held responsible because she knew there was a potential for pregnancy even if she was or wasn’t using birth control? Would there be age distinctions on this issue? How will this bill, if approved, affect access to birth control? Is this a first step in giving rights to unfertilized eggs and sperm?
(3) Would a fertilized egg’s rights supersede those of a female carrying it? Would females in the future here have no bodily rights once they are at any stage of pregnancy? Would a female who has had an abortion in the past now be held responsible for violating the rights of a person? Could law enforcement officers in the future-and don’t think this is out of the question down the road-do spot-pregnancy tests on women, say, during an DUI arrest, to ensure fertilized eggs are not getting mistreated? Wouldn’t it actually be a duty under the law?
The point is bills like these create a legal quagmire and commit the state to fighting lawsuits filed against it. On a pragmatic level, it does nothing more than that. It might make Vaughan and 73 other state legislators feel good about the “sanctity of life,” but it’s irresponsible, especially during a budget crisis, to pass a bill that could obviously lead to spending state money fighting lawsuits.
The two representatives who had the political courage to vote against the bill were Democrats Mike Shelton, Oklahoma City, and Emily Virgin, Norman.