Editorials, Opinion

‘Life at conception’ bill violates Constitution

The Legislature is officially considering the most restrictive kind of abortion ban. The “Life at Conception Act of 2023,” or HB 2885, was introduced to the House this past week, courtesy of local Delegate Geno Chiarelli and four of his compatriots.

The bill reads: “we hereby declare that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of West Virginia is vested in each human being.” It then defines “human being” as “preeminent set of divinely created beings commonly and collectively known and referred to as humans or humanity, consisting of two sexes, male and female, which are mutually dependent for procreation; which are also that same set of divinely created beings descended from the first humans, Adam and Eve, as indicated in the historical record and genealogy provided in the Biblical Book of Genesis …”

We’ve dedicated so much space to the importance of women’s reproductive health care and the life-destroying consequences of abortion bans. But “pro-lifers” will never understand until it happens to them or someone they love.

Instead, we’re going to discuss the multiple ways HB 2885 violates the principle of separation of church and state in both the West Virginia Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.

The principle of separation of church and state holds that government should not and cannot impose specific religious beliefs upon the masses. Many of the most noteworthy Founding Fathers were Deists, including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Monroe and Paine. Followers of Deism, according to the National Humanities Center, “insisted that religious truth should be subject to the authority of human reason rather than divine revelation. … they denied that the Bible was the revealed word of God and rejected scripture as a source of religious doctrine.”

Which brings us to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Establishment Clause, as it’s known, is understood to forbid governments from declaring a state-sponsored religion, but also to prevent overtly religious language in government code — like explicitly citing the Bible in a state law.

Allow us to move on to the West Virginia Constitution. It states, “the Legislature shall not prescribe any religious test whatever, or confer any peculiar privileges or advantages on any sect or denomination …” Life at the point of conception is a religious test — it is not backed by science, but by a personal belief system. In addition, not all religions — indeed, not all Christians — believe that life begins at conception. Therefore, codifying life-at-conception “protections” and forcing a minority’s philosophy on everyone else confers “peculiar privileges or advantages” on a specific sect of Christians — thereby expressly violating the state constitution.

If the Legislature is smart, it will either encourage Chiarelli and his associates to withdraw the bill or let HB 2885 die in committee. Otherwise, the state is sure to face a lawsuit.