Amendment 48: Constitution and Consequences

Pamela White

If Colorado's proposed constitutional amendment to bestow legal rights on fertilized eggs passes this November, the state should look to Nicaragua for a model of likely effects of an abortion ban.

Kristi Burton, 20, a resident of Peyton,
Colorado, is the public face of Amendment
in Colorado, the ballot measure that would change the state constitution to bestow all rights
currently held by human beings onto a fertilized egg. Burton told the press that the idea of
fighting for the unborn came to her when she was sick in bed at the age of 13.

"Me and a lot of my friends want to do what we can to create a culture of life,"
she says, using the oft-repeated favorite phrase of fundamentalist Christians.

Burton claims
she hasn’t really thought about the implications of the proposed constitutional
change and is happy to leave the fallout to the courts. She also says she sees
a future for herself in public policy.

If her interest in public policy should one day include considering the impact
of the policies she hopes to enact, she could study the emerging situation in Nicaragua,
where in November 2006 the conservative government banned all abortions for all
reasons, including rape, incest and the life and health of the mother. Prior to
this change, a woman could have a therapeutic abortion if her life or health
were in danger or if the fetus were malformed in such a way that it would not
live after birth. VIDEO: Life & FertilizationVIDEO: Life & Fertilization

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But now any doctor who performs an abortion for those reasons can be sent to
prison. Likewise, a woman who has an abortion, even to protect her health, can
also be prosecuted and sent to prison.

According to Human Rights Watch, an international nonprofit organization that
has studied the situation in Nicaragua,
the law has resulted in an increase in preventable women’s deaths from causes
related to pregnancy. The organization’s findings were published in October
2007 in a report titled "Over Their Dead Bodies."

"Although it appears that actual prosecutions are rare," the report states,
"the ban has very real consequences that fall into three main categories: denial
of access to life- or health-saving abortion services; denial or delay in
access to other obstetric emergency care; and a pronounced fear of seeking
treatment for obstetrical emergencies. The net result has been avoidable

The report details instances in which doctors have hesitated to treat women
suffering from ectopic pregnancies, uterine hemorrhaging or even
life-threatening cancers because doing so would either terminate her pregnancy
or put it at risk, thus leaving both doctor and hospital vulnerable to

Though the Nicaraguan Health Ministry issued a number of mandatory protocols
regarding obstetrical emergencies hoping to address the unforeseen consequences
of the blanket abortion ban, many hospitals are still hesitant to enact them
for fear that the protocols are still open to interpretation. So, although the
ministry calls for immediate termination of ectopic pregnancies, Human Rights
Watch documented cases in which women died of ectopic pregnancies that went
untreated due to the hospital’s or doctor’s fear of prosecution.

The report also documents a very real fear among women who miscarry naturally
that they will be accused of having an abortion if they seek medical treatment.
Again, women have died.

And yet, for all of this, the law hasn’t stopped women from seeking abortions.
As the report further documents, the law has simply resulted in more women
dying from the procedure.

Women are suffering in other ways, as well. Before the ban was in place, a
woman found to be pregnant with a badly deformed, nonviable fetus – a fetus
afflicted with congenital deformities such as anacephaly
(missing most of the brain) or trisomy-18 (a complex of deformities
incompatible with life) – could terminate her pregnancy. Now, she is required
to carry the pregnancy to term and endure labor on behalf of a fetus that
cannot possibly survive for long outside her uterus.

"To make a woman who knows that she has an anacephalic child in her womb carry
it to term and make her suffer though giving birth – a patient who sees her
child born with those problems suffers devastating psychological consequences,"
an obstetrician from a major hospital in Managua
told Human Rights Watch. "What we normally do when there are malformations
incompatible with life is to terminate the pregnancy when we detect it. But
now, according to the law, it cannot be done. We have encountered various cases
of young girls whose pregnancies we could not terminate; so we told her… that
she has a pregnancy, that the baby is not going to live, and that it will die
when it is born. But we can only explain; there is nothing we can do."


Our Reality: My Name is Monica and I Had an Abortion, Part 1 from Rewire on Vimeo.

Visit Rewire tomorrow for Part 2 of Pamela White’s coverage of the Colorado personhood amendment. This post is
excerpted from a longer story in the Boulder Weekly.

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