Saturday, February 11, 2012

Why the personhood movement is wrong

Conservative 'pro-life' groups in the USA have always been looking for ways to overturn Roe v Wade and ban abortions of any form performed for any reason ever since the ruling was handed down, and their latest high profile strategy has been the attempted introduction of so called 'personhood' amendments in several US states. These amendments usually center around one principle - define life as beginning at fertilization, thereby granting full human rights to the newly formed combination of two gametes. Amendments that attempted this have already been rejected by voters in Colorado, Alaska and Mississippi. And this is a good thing. In fact, a very good thing. For one very good reason:

Defining human life as beginning at fertilization is arbitrary and stupid.

However, the national GOP would love to introduce a federal level personhood amendment - and this act of religious dogma dressed up as human rights concern needs to be fought and finally, utterly, defeated.

The details

HR 212, the Sanctity of Human Live Act, is a bill supported by over 60 Republican politicians and is indicative of the type of language and measures the personhood movement has attempted to introduce at the state level. It was introduced in January 2011 but fortunately has not gone any further. Yet.

It states:

(1) the Congress declares that --

(A) the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being, and is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person; and
(B) the life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, irrespective of sex, health, function or disability, defect, stage of biological development, or condition of dependency, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood; and

(2) the Congress affirms that the Congress, each State, the District of Columbia, and all United States territories have the authority to protect the lives of all human beings residing in its respective jurisdictions.

This would effectively make abortion, and the use of some forms of contraception, murder and would give federal and state governments the ability to prosecute them as such.

A similar bill, HR 374 (also introduced in the senate as S 91), the Life at Conception Act, has over 90 sponsors. This bill seeks to extend the 14th amendment to 'each born and preborn human person' and defines a human person as 'every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilisation...' Very graciously though it does not 'require [my emphasis] the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.'

Not feeling chilled to the bone or floored with the stupidity yet?

Then you really haven't thought this through, or you are one of those people that thinks the rights of a zygote outweigh the rights of a fully developed adult human being.

What is the problem then?

Well, where do I start? At the beginning I guess, just like the ridiculous personood amendments. However, unlike the delusional personhood movement and its attempts at legislation, I am capable of acknowledging the painfully, blatantly, screamingly bloody obvious - how will we know when fertilization occurs?

How, exactly, does one enforce a law that requires a woman and everyone she may interact with that could potentially affect a pregnancy to know that she has a zygote inside her? Come on. If you support the personhood amendments described here, how would you determine when fertilization has occurred and when these provisions are applicable?

Then explain how the process for that determination would not be a gross example of over-reaching big government and a massive invasion of privacy and a violation of a woman's rights.

Should every woman of child bearing age submit to a detailed pregnancy test after sexual intercourse that does not involve contraception? How soon after sex - Immediately? A couple of hours? Within four days (the time it takes for a zygote to become a blastocyst)? A week?

Who enforces this? How? Are we inviting the federal government into the bedroom now? I thought you conservatives didn't like big government?

It's really quite simple. If you can't determine when the law comes into effect, you can't enforce the law. An unenforceable law is a bad law.

But no you say, we don't need to know exactly when fertilization occurs, just that it has. And I reply, then your law is useless. If we don't need to know exactly when fertilization occurs then the definition of life beginning at fertilization is meaningless and has no practical value. It's a political and religious gimmick. If you can't know exactly when fertilization occurred then you cannot enforce a law that requires you to know when fertilization occurs.

Determining how far along a pregnancy is does not come down to an exact science - it is a reasonably accurate guestimate based on a variety of different methods. But you cannot determine the exact point it began. That being the case, imagine the following scenario as if it it took place after the personhood amendments described above had become law:

A woman has sex and one of her eggs is fertilised. She is unaware of this. Two days later she takes medication that causes this new pregnancy to abort. What is she guilty of and how is this determined? Who determines it? What is the person who prescribed the medicine to be charged with? What about the person who provided the medicine? What about the person who made it?

Should all medicine that can potentially end a pregnancy be banned? Should all activities that can potentially end a pregnancy be banned? If not how should we determine when these are OK and when they aren't?

What if it wasn't medicine but something else - vigorous exercise, an alcoholic drink, another sexual encounter, an illness, a car accident? Who is guilty of what crime? If the pregnancy is aborted unknowingly what is the mother guilty of and why, and how do we determine this even occurred?

Are doctors now to be required to report the ending of all pregnancies so that someone can determine if it was a natural cause or the fault of the mother or someone connected to her? In our scenario the woman goes to the doctor a week after taking the medicine that aborted the pregnancy and they determine she had been pregnant - what should the doctor do? Should there be a funeral? Are we now to dispose of every used tampon as if it were a human body? Do we have to inspect every one to determine whether or not a fetus in some stage of development is present?

Every time a woman has a particularly heavy menstrual discharge are we supposed to save it and take it to a doctor for examination to determine if a funeral for a spontaneous miscarriage is needed? There are laws regarding the correct disposal of human remains, if a fertilized egg is classed as a human being they need to be followed and the law is broken if they are not. How is this to be enforced?

As soon as fertilization is confirmed are we supposed to register the pregnancy for a social security number? Can it get a passport? Does it need a passport? Does it count towards maximum occupancy rules? Who is responsible for determining that? Could you sue a nightclub because they let a pregnant lady in and the bouncer didn't count the pregnancy? How does an airline determine the number of passengers on the plane? Can you stop a pregnant lady getting on an elevator with you if that extra little human being took it over the maximum number of people limit?

Do we get rid of birth certificates in favour of fertilization certificates? Swap birthdays for fertilization days? Can you claim a fertilized egg as a dependent on your tax return? Can you claim child tax credits for it? What other legal considerations are there for considering a sack of cells in the womb to be the equal of the adult woman carrying it?

What does this mean for contraception and abortion?

The personhood movement and the anti-abortion movement are virtually indistinguishable. Sure, there are anti-abortion proponents that do not buy in to the personhood argument, but I have yet to see a personhood proponent that was not anti-abortion.

Now, the stated and in some cases unstated aim of personhood is to make abortion illegal, since the unborn fetus, zygote, blastocyst would have a right to life just like a human being who has been born, hence in the eyes of the law performing an abortion would be murder just like taking an adult, juvenile or infant human's life is. So, without overturning Roe v Wade abortion is thus made illegal.

Personhood amendments don't just mean abortion would become illegal however. It would mean a great many forms of contraception would or could become illegal. As ever, religious and social conservatives are coming for your sex life and your right to choose your contraception. Don't forget though, they are totally against big government.

And why do these people have such an obsession with sex?

Anyway, the so called 'morning after pill' and IUDs would be top of the list that personhood amendments would endanger. The morning after pill (Plan B or Next Choice for example) work by preventing the release of an egg and thinning the lining of the uterus, which can prevent a fertilized egg attaching to it. This aspect of this form of contraception would thus be illegal since the fertilized egg would be classed as a human being, and its right to life would be compromised by the pill. So no more morning after pill if personhood amendments come into effect.

With IUDs the argument is not quite as clear, since there is no proof that the IUD prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. But many people argue that IUDs would also prevent a fertilized egg from being able to develop, hence it could also become illegal were a bill like HR 374 to become law.

Since these interfering buggers never know when to stop though (down with big government) it is safe to assume that contraception as a whole would come under attack from personhood amendments as well. Contraception prevents a potential human being from having the chance to the right to life, so why not just ban contraception altogether, right? Then every gamete can have the chance to form a preborn human being after all. Why say the potential for human life only starts at fertilization after all, doesn't it really begin with the creation of gametes, without which there could be no pregnancy?

No exemptions, ever

Another important aspect to note with these personhood amendments is that not only would they make abortion and some form of contraceptives illegal (potentially all forms of contraception if these bastards have their way, of that you can be sure) is that there are no exemptions from them, at all, ever.

Raped by your father? No abortion. Raped by a stranger? No abortion. The pregnancy could kill you? No abortion. The fetus won't live anyway? No abortion. The fetus has developed with no head? No abortion. The fetus will die in the womb? No abortion. More than one fetus where either one must be aborted or neither will survive? No abortion.

What about cases where the mother needs life saving treatment that would abort the pregnancy? No exemption. No treatment. Who would be charged with what in such a case if the treatment went ahead? Whose rights have primacy? Should both mother and zygote lose the right to life? How come the zygote's rights suddenly outweigh the mother's?

When did women move from individuals with rights to walking incubators with less rights than the week old tiny sack of cells in their womb and what kind of monster can justify that?

My wife works in a clinic that deals with high risk pregnancies. Almost every single week she sees cases where an abortion is medically necessary. No dice under a personhood law. No abortion. No matter what the harm to the mother.

If you can't see this is a way to reduce and restrict women's rights, there is no getting through to you.

Don't believe that an abortion could ever be necessary? Don't believe that a pregnancy could go so wrong an abortion is the right thing to do? I suggest you pull your head from your arse and do some research then. This is the uncomfortable truth that anti-abortion and personhood proponents don't want you to know - in fact they go out of their way to make sure no-one ever mentions it.

There are plenty of medical reasons why abortions can be necessary, but personhood proponents want you to believe that abortions are only ever carried out on promiscuous women that just hate babies. Think about it. Have you ever once heard an anti-abortion or personhood proponent talk about anencephaly? I wonder why? Think hard about this lie by omission. No abortion under personhood amendments.

No exemptions. Ever.

And they call themselves pro-life.

And the scary part?

HR 374 does not require the prosecution of a mother for the death of her unborn child.

That should scare the crap out of anyone, you don't have to be a legal scholar or a doctor to understand why that is a disturbing turn of phrase for a law. In other words, if this bill became law the state could prosecute a woman under any circumstance it wanted to whenever it wanted whenever that woman loses an unborn child.

It isn't required to, but it sure as hell can.  If a woman loses a pregnancy through an action of her own, even though she didn't know about the pregnancy before that action was taken, this law allows the state to prosecute her.

Not even the Nazis tried that.

So that's it

Personhood has it all:

Its legally unenforcable unless you submit to a tyranny the Nazis didn't even try, with the state policing your sexual encounters and doctors informing on women to the government so it can prosecute them if it wants to.

Its almost medically and scientifically impossible to justify or regulate.

It makes no attempt to understand a massively complex issue - it's black and white and that's that.

It restricts your right to use contraception and infringes on a woman's rights in a multitude of ways.

There are no exemptions, ever.

Thankfully voters have chosen to reject personhood amendments so far - but is it only a matter of time before this kind of stupidity is introduced? Look at the current crop of Republican pretenders to the throne and the current state of American politics and ask yourself if it is only a matter of time, unless we do something now. I honestly can't say that I think a personhood amendment is not likely to be passed somewhere in the USA in the next 10 years.

And that should terrify everyone.

Oh, and I make no apology for the disturbing pictures in the anencephaly link. Anti-abortion advocates make the most of fake pictures of pictures taken out of context in order to provoke an emotional reaction in these arguments. Those pictures are what they don't want you to see, and they make my point for me. Abortions can be justified and necessary.


  1. If you are looking for some kind of encouragement - just remember that Mississippi - arguably the reddest of red states in this here union - a state that has consistently voted in favor of anti-choice, anti-women candidates, voted down their personhood amendment quite soundly not so long ago.
    If the anti-medicine crowd can't get it passed in Mississippi, then there's not much chance anywhere else (maybe Alabama).

    1. You'd hope so, but I remain to be convinced. If a large number of people can seriously consider Sarah Palin or Ron Paul for president, anything is possible!

  2. This is an excellent post, JB. Excellent. It shows that actually behind all this is not a desire to grant personhood to zygotes, but the wish to enforce "God's right" to cause pregnancy when ever and how ever "he" wishes, no matter who dies or who suffers. This is insane hatred of women and children inspired by religion and clothed in secular language to try and ram it into law.

  3. What makes fertilization an arbitrary starting point for personhood? It seems a good deal less arbitrary than other potential points of demarcation such as implantation or birth.

    1. I’m going to assume that you stopped understanding or reading my post as soon as you got to the word ‘arbitrary’, because if you hadn’t you wouldn’t have asked this question.

      How do you determine exactly when fertilization occurs?

      You can’t (without gross and constant invasions of a woman’s privacy).

      So if you can’t, then how do you determine it has, and that personhood has begun?

      Completely arbitrarily.

      Or to put it another way – what are your reasons for proclaiming that fertilization is a good deal less arbitrary than the two examples you cite?

      Then think about how much of your answer also applies to either of the other two and ask yourself why fertilization was chosen. Was it ‘by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle’? Was it ‘Based on or subject to individual judgment or preference’? Was it?



  4. I stumbled across this after posting my own piece on the "personhood lie" this morning. THANK YOU. I really felt like I was alone in this.

    Oh, and by the way... no apology needed for the anencephaly pics here. My daughter was anencephalic - and now you know why this horrifies me so much. <3

  5. Ok so when does life begin??? if the point when the egg and sperm meet is not the time when? for all of us it was a very important moment and without it we would not be here. You also assume abortions are good for women "a choice". do you know abortions increase the risk of depression and suicide in women. We are made to love and protect our babies. To assume we are like men is a lie.To assume we can kill our babies at any point and it not hurt us to our souls is a lie!!! When are babies worthy of life in your opinion? After they are born? If they are wanted?,after they can care for themselves? when they can drive? when are they worthy of protection in your eyes? only if they are planned, perfect, white, black, hispanic, who do you think is worthy of life? I believe ALL babies are worthy of life from the moment the egg and sperm met.because without that there is nothing. Have you seen an aborted baby? could you watch a aborted baby fight for life and do nothing? God have mercy on your soul for writing how unimportant you believe the most precious of our society is.

  6. Oh and... big government wants you to believe in abortions because it leads to population control and class control. Personhood gives a definition of life. I have not heard of this law punishing the mother if her baby dies even if she does drugs and causes it. It happens everyday and sadly no one cares,How do you think nazi's felt about abortion? they liked it. they could make people believe their babies weren't people so they could decide the races that survive.Big government always supports abortions not the opposite

    1. Your comments had so much wrong with them I made an entirely new post on the subject, to be found here.