Why We Should Be Very Afraid Of The Personhood Movement
At the core of the modern anti-choice movement is the idea of “personhood,” and it’s an insidious threat to women, the medical profession, and our legal system. The movement—led by the overtly Christian Personhood USA group—is seeking to legally codify their definition of personhood as beginning at fertilization. Personhood USA has been spearheading the drive to get the measure onto ballots across the country, and has a stated goal of amending the US Constitution to define personhood as beginning at fertilization.
This is one of the most extreme anti-abortion measures out there. Not only would it effectively legally define abortion as murder, but it presents challenges to stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, and birth control.
A quick biology lesson: a pregnancy occurs when a male’s sperm enters a female’s egg. This is fertilization. That fertilized egg then must adhere to the wall of the uterus. This is implantation. Implantation does not happen immediately after fertilization—generally, fertilization occurs in the Fallopian tube, and then the fertilized egg must make its way to the uterus. The walls of a woman’s uterus, during a normal cycle, thicken and then shed when no implantation occurs (which we all know and love as periods).
Preventing pregnancy can be done in several ways: we can block the sperm from ever reaching the egg (barrier methods such as condoms), we can prevent ovulation, and we can prevent implantation. These personhood amendments would make these forms of birth control, as well as Plan B, effectively illegal as they would be “murdering” a person. One example is the IUD: it works by disrupting the uterine environment and making implantation impossible. It’s worth noting that IUDs are one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy, due to the fact that a woman doesn’t have to remember to take a pill every day, or get a shot. It would also make treating ectopic pregnancies—when the fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus—difficult. Ectopic pregnancies are extremely dangerous for a woman and are considered a medical emergency.
This also ignores the simple fact that many fertilized eggs never implant at all.
The root of this movement is the Blackmun Hole, named after Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court Justice who delivered the majority opinion in Roe V. Wade, the seminal 1973 decision that is widely seen to have legalized abortion. It goes to one brief passage in the opinion:
The appellee and certain amici [pro-lifers] argue that the fetus is a ‘person’ within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.
This means that, were Personhood USA to have its way, there would be legal grounds to overturn Roe v. Wade. This completely invalidates the arguments that several supporters have made that personhood bills have no bearing on abortion and birth control:
And since the Supreme Court has already ruled on the issue of abortion (see Roe v. Wade), the state legislature would be limited mainly to dealing with zygotes, embryos, and fetuses on issues concerning tort law and property law.
Since Personhood USA is founded on what they see as the great weakness of the Roe v. Wade decision, anyone who suggests this is either lying or deluded.
In 2011, the Mississippi voters rejected one of the first statewide ballot personhood initiatives. This was widely seen as a total referendum on the idea. Mississippi is one of the most conservative states in the country. While abortion is legal there, it is heavily restricted and there are only two abortion providers in the entire state, meaning that many women must cross state lines. If personhood was rejected there, how could it gain any traction elsewhere?
However, personhood initiatives are going to be an issue for voters in the 2012 election as well. Personhood USA immediately announced that they would target Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada and California in 2012, while targeting Florida in 2014. It seems likely we’ll see it on the ballot in Georgia and Colorado. (The measure has already failed in Nevada.) In addition, at least 12 states, including Virginia, are considering personhood legislation.
But the personhood debate goes beyond the state level: it extends to the Presidential race as well.
Mitt Romney has been inconsistent on the personhood debate specifically and the abortion debate in general, refusing to sign Personhood USA’s pledge. He has made some comments suggesting he believes it should be a states’ rights issue, but like many of his positions, it seems that he chooses his stance primarily based on political need rather than actual belief. He has taken fire for this from the movement, and from the radical right in general.
However, his pick for Vice President, Paul Ryan, is an unequivocal believer in the personhood movement. He is one of the co-sponsors of H.R. 212, a federal personhood bill known as the ‘Sanctity of Human Life’ bill.
The bill states:
(1) the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human and is the person’s paramount and most fundamental right;
(2) each human life begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, at which time every human has all legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood; and
(3) Congress, each state, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories have the authority to protect all human lives.
A woman’s right to choose if and when she reproduces and her right to bodily integrity are under one of the worst attacks in history. The 2012 election will be a major battle. By picking Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney is gathering the support of the radical right. If we can turn them away at the polls, along with these ballot initiatives and the state legislators supporting these bills on a state level, we can send a resounding message to Personhood USA. Do not let them infringe upon our rights.
Written by Jess Mary Aloe
Follow her on Twitter!
Header image courtesy of AP/Rogelio V. Solis
Opinions stated in our editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Feminspire and its staff as a whole, but instead reflect the opinions of the writer.
May 17, 2013
May 16, 2013
May 16, 2013
May 15, 2013
May 15, 2013
May 15, 2013