HOUSE BILL NO. 1 Offered January 11, 2012Prefiled November 21, 2011A BILL to construe the word “person” under Virginia law, including but not limited to § 8.01-50 of the Code of Virginia, to include unborn children.
———-Patrons– Marshall, R.G. and Cline; Senators: Colgan and Garrett———-Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice———-Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. § 1. The life of each human being begins at conception.
§ 2. Unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being.
§ 3. The natural parents of unborn children have protectable interests in the life, health, and well-being of their unborn child.
§ 4. The laws of this Commonwealth shall be interpreted and construed to acknowledge on behalf of the unborn child at every stage of development all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this Commonwealth, subject only to the Constitution of the United States and decisional interpretations thereof by the United States Supreme Court and specific provisions to the contrary in the statutes and constitution of this Commonwealth.
§ 5. As used in this section, the term “unborn children” or “unborn child” shall include any unborn child or children or the offspring of human beings from the moment of conception until birth at every stage of biological development.
§ 6. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as creating a cause of action against a woman for indirectly harming her unborn child by failing to properly care for herself or by failing to follow any particular program of prenatal care.
§ 7. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as affecting lawful assisted conception.
§ 8. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as affecting lawful contraception.
That’s right: the proposed amendment protecting contraception was stripped out of the final bill.
As for “affecting lawful assisted conception”, does Delegate Robert G. Marshall know that the process of culturing, testing, freezing, and thawing embryos carries the non-negligible risk of embryo death? Or that this bill would require those who created the embryos in vitro either to transfer said embryos to a willing woman or to keep them in a deep freeze forever?
Does he know that as of 2009 Virginia contained 12 fertility clinics, which performed over 2000 cycles using fresh non-donor eggs? Is he aware that many, many more than 2000 fertilized eggs were transferred which never took? Is he aware that during these IVF cycles that many eggs were fertilized that never developed beyond a few cleavage stages—that is, that these eggs died in the dish?
Maybe he does, and he just doesn’t care.
But no, let’s not give him the benefit of the doubt—especially since he couldn’t be bothered to agree to the contraception-protection amendment—and let’s denounce his double-idiocy. Why double?
1. He does not understand conception.
To begin with, fertilization is a process, not a single event. The zygote is not formed until the last stage of fertilization, that is, after the sperm has penetrated into the ooplasm it takes some time before the 23 pairs of chromosomes are sorted and arranged. Furthermore, the early pregnancy factor protein—the presence of which in the first 10 days after fertilization indicates a pregnancy—is not secreted into the woman’s bloodstream until 24-48 hours post-fertilization.
And of course, pregnancy is not considered to have begun until 6 days or so post-fertilization, when the blastocyst attaches itself to the endometrium epithelium of the uterine wall.
Given that neither Marshall nor any of the rest of the 65 delegates could be bothered even to define what is “conception”—is it that magic moment when a single sperm pushes its way through the zona pellucida surrounded the ooplasm? after the formation of the two pronuclei? the fusion of said pronuclei?—-it’s easy to conclude they don’t give a damn about biological reality.
Which matters because it is the biological reality that 60-80 percent of all fertilized eggs will never result in a live birth, which in turn would indicate that “nature” or “biology” doesn’t give a damn about Marshall’s definition of personhood.
2. This biological reality also matters because these majority of failed fertilizations could potential open a woman up to legal liability.
Yes, the bill states that “Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as creating a cause of action against a woman for indirectly harming her unborn child by failing to properly care for herself or by failing to follow any particular program of prenatal care” —but it doesn’t prevent such creation, either. In other words, the legislators, in attempting to get around the legal reality that it would be impossible to investigate every single instance of failed fertilization, nonetheless leave open the possibility (via § 4) that a woman could be held liable.
Admittedly, I could be reaching here, but it does seem as if sections 4 and 6 are in potential conflict with one another, and it is by no means certain how a court would resolve such a conflict.
More to the point, this is a piece of bullshit boilerplate designed both to get the state off the hook for not providing adequate prenatal care to poor and uninsured women and to reinforce the notion that women aren’t responsible enough to make decisions about their own health.
And, of course, this bill leaves the status of in vitro-created zygotes in limbo: what happens if they don’t develop? Could clinicians be held liable?
Who knows. Answers to these questions would require some recognition of the messiness and complexity of human life, something which these reality-challenged delegates are clearly unable to do.
The bill now goes to the Senate.