Ahlin: Ideological personhood bill rife with obvious hypocrisy

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, is back with legislation that declares a fertilized egg and a human being to be one and the same in North Dakota. Although Ruby insists the new bill gets rid of some of the problems in his 2009 "personhood" bill, the only ...

Jane Ahlin

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, is back with legislation that declares a fertilized egg and a human being to be one and the same in North Dakota. Although Ruby insists the new bill gets rid of some of the problems in his 2009 "personhood" bill, the only real change to the legislation (which back then was voted down in the Senate) is that this time he's upfront about his intent.

In the 2009 session, he said his bill would not be a "direct ban" on abortion, but this time he says that criminalizing abortion is his objective. To that end, he and his fellow sponsors can't be bothered with the medical and legal ramifications of his ideological bill.

And there are plenty. Consider in vitro fertilization. The bill's sponsors insist that IVF will be exempt from the law, but the language of the bill really says the opposite, and that confusion was obvious in testimony. According to the Associated Press article carried in The Forum, a man named Gualberto Garcia Jones - not a North Dakotan but an activist attorney for the extreme group "Personhood USA" - told the North Dakota Senate's Judiciary Committee: "We're not talking about a doctor in an IVF clinic who makes a mistake, drops a petri dish, and he's going to suddenly be convicted of homicide. We're talking about established standards that have precedent in the law of North Dakota that define recklessness, negligence ... I don't think we want North Dakota doctors to be able to be negligent with human life."

Yet, I'm told that at the same hearing, another out-of-state activist giving testimony favoring the bill, a woman named Rebecca Kiessling, referred to IVF doctors as "abortionists."

So here's a scenario. Let's say a surgeon loses control of his knife while doing a routine surgery on a 30-year-old, accidentally cuts through a major artery, and the patient dies right on the table. Or let's say an anesthesiologist goofs up and accidentally administers a lethal dose to a 10-year-old in the operating room. In fact, in an apples-to-apples comparison, let's say two nurses moving an 80-year-old from a gurney to an operating table accidentally drop the patient right on the floor, killing him instantly. Aren't those physicians and nurses criminally liable for their "accidents"?


Now consider the dropped petri dish. If a fertilized egg is a person, surely the physician who destroyed embryos by dropping the dish is as criminally liable as the surgeon and the anesthesiologist and the nurses.

That's ridiculous, you say? I quite agree. Interestingly, the statements by the out-of-state activist from "Personhood USA" suggest he agrees. But here's the rub: If every embryo is a person, then the "people" in the petri dish aren't being treated fairly by the law.

More to the point are the words of Dr. S. Orser, a respected Bismarck obstetrician and gynecologist testifying against the bill, who was quoted in the AP article as saying, "To suggest that every embryo is a person is absurd."

The truth is, by their shallow attempts at exceptions, the proponents of this bill point up their own hypocrisy and the real travesty of letting the bill become law.

In fact, if this bill becomes law, a 14-year-old victim of incest or a 19-year-old college student slipped Rohypnol and gang-raped would be forced by the state to carry a resulting pregnancy, no matter how that pregnancy affected her physical and mental well-being.

In practical terms, spontaneous abortions and miscarriages could be questioned and investigated as crimes, treatment for tubal pregnancies could be dangerously delayed, and the tragedy of fetal anomalies, such as a fetus developing without a brain, would be magnified. Availability of birth control methods could be severely limited because most effective methods (usually) prevent fertilization but also likely will prevent the implantation of an embryo if fertilization occurs.

In terms of reproductive health care, the personhood bill would send North Dakota back over half a century.

No doubt the personhood folks will say that's not what they intend. However, once a fertilized egg is declared a human being, their intentions won't matter. Bad law will bring bad results.


Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.

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