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Robyn E. Blumner

Sen. McCain, the zygote and the vote

I had a conversation with a seemingly smart woman recently who thought that Roe vs. Wade would never be overturned regardless of who wins the presidency. Though deeply pro-choice, she said she has voted for a Republican as president in the past since she likes the concept of local control and thinks Republicans represent that ideal better.

Now, had she said that she's willing to forgo abortion rights for other Republican political values, that would be one thing. (Although President Bush's imperial presidency stands starkly inapposite to her stated interest in decentralized power.) But she couldn't even contemplate a world without Roe's protections. She was horrified by the prospect, and yet through determined denial she was willing to be an instrument of the ruling's demise.

We are almost certainly one U.S. Supreme Court justice away from Roe being consigned to the dustbin of history. With two of the court's liberals being the two oldest members on the court — Justice John Paul Stevens is 88 years old and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 75 years old — the next president is going to be the decider.

And if he wins, Sen. John McCain promises to be the one to overturn Roe by picking justices who will do the deed. On this, McCain couldn't be clearer.

In case you missed his recent appearance before the evangelical audience of pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, McCain was asked: When is a baby entitled to human rights? His emphatic response: "At the moment of conception." (Add wild applause here.)

Think about this.

Were this view to come to pass and a single-cell zygote were imbued with 14th Amendment rights to life, liberty and property, not only would abortion rights go away, but infertile couples would lose the option of in vitro fertilization. It would also mean the end of all embryonic stem cell research.

This last bit is at odds with McCain's expressed stance. He has said he would allow federal funds for embryonic cell research in narrow circumstances, on embryos slated for destruction in fertility clinics.

But to state the obvious, embryos with rights equivalent to a Bar Mitzvah boy may not be destroyed for scientific experimentation, even if that science holds immense medical promise for, you know, the born.

And those fertility clinics McCain speaks of would have to close, since it would not be okay — not in the least — to freeze all those petri-dish-souls who are not lucky enough to be implanted in a womb.

A five-day-old embryo of about 150 cells used in stem cell research is smaller than a grain of sand. (Note that the brain of a fruit fly has 250,000 cells.) The idea of human rights flowing to such an entity is just plain silliness. But the consequences of this view are not silly at all.

Right now a controversy is swirling around Mike Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, who proposed new regulations on Thursday that potentially embrace the human-rights-at-conception paradigm.

The regulations would deny federal funds to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and health plans that don't allow their employees to opt out of providing care that offends their personal convictions.

In other words, if a doctor holds the belief that human rights attach at conception, he must be allowed to refuse to provide emergency contraception to patients who need it — even a rape victim.

Catholic hospitals and pharmacies too would be able to deny women access to so-called morning-after pills.

Extremists claim it's a chemical abortion by occasionally preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.

Pro-choice Republican voters are deluding themselves if they think Roe is eternal no matter who wins the White House. If McCain is president he promises to grant human rights to microscopic cells and he very well may succeed.

Sen. McCain, the zygote and the vote 08/23/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 4:45pm]
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