Our view: Flawed initiative

Obvious legal problems should sink 'personhood' proposal

December 2, 2009 

Should a single-celled embryo or a fetus incapable of life outside the womb have the legal rights of a "person" in Alaska? The answer will be yes if a proposed ballot initiative survives legal challenge, gains sufficient signatures and is approved by a majority of Alaska voters.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Passing the so-called "personhood" initiative would essentially assert state control over the bodies of pregnant women.

Consider just a few of the bizarre questions that could arise if such an initiative were to pass. Would a rapist have the legal right to hire a lawyer to represent the embryo inside his victim, to ensure that the child is born? What potential lawsuit awaits the woman who smokes a cigarette or drinks alcohol during her pregnancy? Would the federal census count a woman pregnant with twins as three people? Would fertility clinics that store embryos for implantation be subject to regulation as orphanages?

So what would justify the creation of such a legal quagmire?

The initiative sponsor, Christopher Kurka, freely admits that "personhood" is an effort to stop legal abortion. His is a futile quest because abortion, with some limitations, is a constitutional right in the United States, and a state-level voter initiative can't override the U.S. Constitution.

For that reason alone, Alaska courts would be justified in stopping the initiative. This legal problem was so obvious, even the staunchly anti-abortion Parnell administration couldn't overlook it. Attorney General Dan Sullivan suggested, and Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell agreed, to try to rescue the initiative by including language saying it wouldn't affect state law on abortion, even though that's why it exists.

When a proposed initiative has to say upfront that it can't accomplish what it's intended to accomplish, and carries the prospect of personally invasive, unintended consequences for Alaska women, it doesn't belong on any ballot.

BOTTOM LINE: Whether life begins at conception is a question for individual conscience, not for the ballot box.

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