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Advertise on the Tentacle

March 16, 2009

General Assembly Journal 2009 Volume 8

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Granting Personhood! Yes, I know what the editor is saying. What a terrible example of poor grammar in an opening. Unfortunately, I don’t make this stuff up, I just write about it!


Friday, March 13, the House Health and Government Operations Committee took up a little bill called the Personhood Constitutional Amendment. This bill, drafted by Anne Arundel County Republican Don Dwyer, would bring a ballot question before the voters of Maryland to grant personhood at the time of conception.


From the actual synopsis of the bill:


Maryland Personhood Amendment

FOR the purpose of proposing an amendment to the Maryland Declaration of Rights to establish that the right not to be deprived of life is vested in all human beings, irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of their biological development; making technical changes; and submitting this amendment to the qualified voters of the State of Maryland for their adoption or rejection.


Not the least bit controversial now, is it? Delegate Dwyer is the most conservative elected official I’ve ever met. In fact, he’s so conservative that he makes most other Republicans look almost liberal in comparison. Compared to him, I’m a socialist! He’s a crusader, someone so focused on what’s “right” that everyone else, especially those who disagree, just have to be wrong.


Legislators, who think like that, function in a black/white world. In fact, they desperately need that level of clarity on issues to be able to find comfort in their own cut-and-dried solutions. Heaven forbid there is a gray area; halfway can only mean a dreaded compromise.


We have many political personalities like that right here in Frederick County. They’d have you believe that anyone who negotiates lacks principal. I’d counter that negotiation and compromise require a flexible intellect and a wide enough world view to see the difference between policy achievement and political isolation.


Frankly, I’m not impressed by ideologues, never have been. They almost always fail to serve their constituents’ best interests, because they can’t accept the idea that once elected, they represent all people, not just the ones who agree with their narrow moral view.


So, back to the personhood bill. Current law in Maryland holds that the state may not interfere with a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus is viable (able to survive outside the womb), or anytime during pregnancy to protect the health of the mother, or if the fetus suffers from a genetic defect, or has a serious deformity or abnormality.


The abortion must be performed by a licensed physician, who cannot be held liable if the decision to abort the pregnancy was made in good faith, in the physician’s best medical judgment, and following accepted medical practices.


Four states are considering similar legislation. Alabama, Georgia, North Dakota, and Michigan legislatures are currently contemplating a state constitutional amendment to grant personhood status at conception.


One state, Colorado, had already traveled that road. The state legislature placed the matter before Colorado voters this past year. They rejected the measure by a comfortable margin.


At least 36 states, including Maryland, have fetal homicide laws which extend criminal justice laws to viable fetuses. Maryland’s law allows for the prosecution of murder or manslaughter of a viable fetus, but does not apply to a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.


So, this decision would have a profound impact on Maryland law. Clearly, if passed, the Personhood Amendment would constitute a seismic shift, a movement toward making the practice of abortion illegal since now the fetus would be a person, with all of the rights and protections afforded other persons.


Clearly, if there was an issue that deserves to be brought before the voters of Maryland, this might be the one. Not slot machines, gay marriage, guns, or even tax caps stirs the emotions like the question of abortion.


The makeup of the House and Senate suggest this bill will not pass, definitely not now. The last thing the Democratic Party wants is a constitutional amendment on abortion on the 2010 ballot. While they think women’s groups and the typical Democratic Party base vote (unions, inner city and urban voters, academics) would certainly turn out to oppose the amendment, they know that core conservative base (churches of all stripes and congregations) would rally around this cause like no other.


National attention would be focused on Maryland like never before. Campaign spending would blow out all previous records. Any top tier GOP candidates would benefit substantially from this, and even “down-ballot” races would see a benefit.


Western Maryland voters, some of the states most conservative, would pour out in overwhelming numbers. Pro-life candidates would ride a cresting wave of support, and even previously strong Democrat incumbents, who were thought to be safe, would be in serious jeopardy.


I’m not suggesting that Delegate Dwyer is proposing this bill for purely political purposes. I wouldn’t demean his crusade so cavalierly. He wants this practice of baby-killing stopped – at all costs. I’ll bet that he views his soul (as well as the others in the General Assembly) as being on the line here.


Do nothing and go straight to Hell, do not collect $200. Pass the Personhood Amendment and be exalted!


He opened his testimony in the committee hearing with a prayer. He prayed that God would open our ears to hear the truth, that our eyes would be opened to reality. We’ve never had a committee meeting open with a prayer. I found it odd, not the least bit comforting, as prayer normally is for me.


The people, who followed in support of the bill, crossed between evangelism and emotion. One young woman testified in gruesome detail about her own abortion, something she says she regrets every day. Several others spoke about how they were faced with a choice, and chose life.


Several “experts” spoke about the developmental stages of the unborn child, making a scientific case for conception being the point at which DNA transfer begins the miracle of human existence.


There were several panels of proponents, but only one panel of opponents. Predictably, the opponents included the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and NOW. I can only assume that they considered their opposition to be perfunctory, since they had to know the bill wasn’t going anywhere this year.


I cannot tell you how I would vote if I had to vote tomorrow. On one hand, I understand and support the idea that this question is so profound and complex that voters should be allowed to weigh in. On the other, as long as federal law allows a woman to choose to have an abortion, and as long as the Supreme Court holds Roe v. Wade as constitutional and valid, then having states attempt to adopt laws that say something different is problematic and confusing.


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