A Womb With a View


Eileen Smith

When does life begin? It’s a complex moral issue and, as with most complex moral issues, one best answered by the men and women of the Texas Legislature. A bill authored by Republican representatives Wayne Christian of Center, Linda Harper-Brown of Irving, and Dan Flynn of Canton would define the moment that life begins. How on earth did Gov. Rick Perry pass by this bill when he was designating his non-emergency “emergency” items for the session?

House Bill 1109, which has been referred to the House Committee on State Affairs, would amend the Health and Safety Code to define when life begins as “the moment that the initial splitting of a human cell occurs during fertilization.” It further states that “an unborn human organism is alive and is entitled to the rights, protections, and privileges accorded to any other person in this state.”

You might think that this issue is already covered in the state’s penal code, which defines an individual as “a human being who is alive, including an unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.” The intent of HB 1109, however, would take this a step further, affecting both assisted reproductive technology and the reproductive rights of couples dealing with infertility.

According to  RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, the bill’s language could impair or even completely prevent doctors from practicing IVF, formally known as in vitro fertilization, because the procedure may be deemed to pose too great a risk to embryos. This type of legislation, referred to as “personhood” legislation, would redefine microscopic embryos as human beings and confer legal rights onto the embryos and even the fertilized egg. The bill could also make the process of cryopreservation— or freezing—of embryos illegal.

HB 1109 would severely limit infertility options available for couples in Texas, as IVF is one of the most effective treatments for infertility. But of course, if a woman can’t get pregnant naturally, then it’s simply not God’s will in the eyes of most right-wing religious conservatives. Likewise if people with cancer can’t heal themselves without using such modern medicine as radiation and chemotherapy, then it’s probably just their time to go.

Texas isn’t the only state considering issues that have nothing to do with actually improving the lives of its citizens. (However it is probably the only state that wants to enact a bill named after Bill Burch, chairman of the conservative Grass Roots Institute of Texas and a three-time loser in state House races.) There are similar “personhood” bills making their way through state legislatures in Iowa, North Dakota, Georgia, Montana, and Oklahoma. Before getting too excited about this new conservative mission, lawmakers might want to take a look at Colorado, where a so-called Personhood Amendment banning abortion, most forms of birth control, and embryonic stem cell research has been overwhelmingly rejected twice by the voters, in 2008 and 2010.

Perhaps when Christian, Harper-Brown and Flynn got together to craft HB 1109 (with Rep. Bill Zedler looming in the background as a co-author), they were unaware of the ramifications of the bill’s overly broad language. Or perhaps they knew exactly what they were doing, having seen other states attempt the same thing. Despite the traditional Republican party line of less government and more personal responsibility, Texas is certainly looking more and more like a nanny state.