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Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012

The Twinkle Amendment

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When it comes to granting equal rights to the unborn under our Constitution, most honest people realize our country is still a long way from providing equal rights for all the born.

But when has honesty ever had anything to do with the abortion debate? Despite claiming to be moral and religious people, opponents of abortion rights stopped being honest a long time ago.

They resort to every legal trick imaginable to try to force their personal religious beliefs upon everyone else. When they can't twist the law to get their way, some of them have no qualms about breaking laws up to and including the law against murdering doctors.

The latest legal assault on abortion rights in Wisconsin is a so-called “personhood” amendment to the state constitution. The amendment, introduced by state Rep. Andre Jacque (R-Bellevue), takes aim at this fundamental guarantee in our state constitution: All people are born equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, among which is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Unbelievably, Jacque would rewrite that constitutional guarantee of freedom, equality and inherent rights to deny—you guessed it—freedom, equality and inherent rights.

The first thing Jacque would do is cross out that word “born.” He believes our founders erred in limiting human rights to people who actually exist.

In addition to eliminating the bothersome little requirement that people actually be born before having constitutional rights, Jacque would create a brand-new definition of a person.

He would define “people” or “person” in our constitution as “every human being at any stage of development.”

Republicans like to come up with cheery titles for their laws destroying rights. A perfect name for this one would be the Twinkle Amendment, declaring personhood from the time someone is a twinkle in dad's eye.

The real purpose behind all this flimflam, of course, is to create through subterfuge a constitutional prohibition against abortion and even contraception in Wisconsin.

It says volumes about how drastically Wisconsin's reputation as a progressive state has fallen under Republican Gov. Scott Walker that such a Neanderthal amendment would even be attempted here.

The last place this personhood ruse was attempted was just two months ago in Mississippi, the Deep South state that a 2011 Gallup poll ranked as the most conservative state in the union.

Singer-songwriter Phil Ochs described Mississippi as the nation's most backward capital of hatred during the civil rights era, concluding with the classic line: “Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of.”

Well, guess what? In November, even the voters of Mississippi voted down a personhood ballot initiative 58% to 42%.

An End to Birth Control?

Their schools may not be very good down there, but Mississippians were still smart enough to understand medical experts and others who explained that declaring a fertilized egg to be a person could have far-reaching, unwanted consequences.

Those didn't just include denying a woman's right to have an abortion, even in cases of rape, incest or when her own life was at stake. It also raised legal questions about a woman's right to use birth control or to receive treatment in the event of pregnancy complications.

The media's biggest mistake in covering the political battle over abortion is their uncritical acceptance of the claim by opponents of abortion rights that their objections are moral.

That automatically makes anyone on the other side—all those who support a woman's right for the past 40 years to choose whether to give birth to a child—immoral people.

It's particularly odd to hear extreme right-wing tea party Republicans arguing for laws imposing one narrow religious view upon all Americans.

In the little world of the tea parties, one would expect them to be railing against the immorality of Big Government forcing a woman by law to bear a child she doesn't want for perfectly understandable, moral reasons, including rape, incest, personal health, desperate poverty or being 11 years old.

There's a very good reason why freedom of religion is in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We were always a diverse nation and are becoming even more so.

The fact that people hold different religious beliefs or even no religious beliefs does not mean some people are moral and others aren't. Immoral atrocities have been committed in the name of religion throughout history.

Morality aside, writing one particular religion into law raises practical questions. Should we write into the law the teachings of the church or the real practices of that church's followers?

Once there was real-world evidence that Catholic teachings on abortion and contraception were being strictly obeyed. The rarity in America today of Catholic families of 16 living in rags now suggests otherwise.

If a church can't enforce its teachings among its own members, we surely shouldn't try to impose them by law on everybody else in Wisconsin.

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