This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong’s and my new policy paper: The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I’m currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception

By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010

The Destructive Effects of ‘Personhood’

Given that Roe v. Wade remains in force, the impact that any state-based personhood measure may have is not clear. However, what is clear is that the ultimate agenda of the “personhood” movement is to overturn Roe v. Wade and totally ban abortion and other practices that may harm a zygote, embryo, or fetus.

As we shall see, the battle to fully enforce a “personhood” measure would generate a legal quagmire. To the degree that it were enforced, a “personhood” measure would generate horrific consequences–including harsh criminal penalties–in the areas of abortion, birth control, fertility treatments, and medical research.

A Legal Quagmire

A state constitutional provision, such as Colorado’s Amendment 62, would be implemented and enforced by legislative action, state and federal court rulings, and policies of police and prosecutors. Thus, while Personhood USA and its sympathizers have stated their views of the meaning of “personhood,” their proposed legal measures might be interpreted and enforced differently than they would prefer.

The ultimate legal impact of Amendment 62 (and related measures) cannot be perfectly predicted in advance. What is certain is that “personhood” measures would provoke many years of legal battles in legislatures and courts, ensnaring women and their partners and doctors in expensive, time-consuming, and potentially liberty-infringing civil or criminal proceedings. Also certain is that, the more consistently Amendment 62 were interpreted and enforced, the more ghastly its implications would be.

So long as the Roe v. Wade decision remains in force, state governments would not be able to impose abortion bans. Therefore, the passage of Amendment 62 in Colorado would not immediately ban abortions due to overriding federal policy. However, as discussed in the prior section, overturning Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion is precisely what the advocates of “personhood” aim to do. That is why religious conservatives express such interest in the abortion-related views of nominated Supreme Court Justices.

Even absent a reversal of Roe v. Wade, a “personhood” measure could have far-reaching consequences. As Alaska’s Attorney General Daniel Sullivan wrote in a review of the proposed “personhood” measure in that state, courts could apply the measure “on a case by case basis” in an unpredictable number of ways:

An initiative that sought to prohibit all abortions would be clearly unconstitutional because there is controlling law, Roe v. Wade, that makes such a measure clearly unconstitutional. But there is no controlling law that makes it clearly unconstitutional to extend legal person status to the point of conception. …[I]n order to avoid a finding of unconstitutionality, the courts could interpret the personhood measure narrowly with respect to its impact on state laws regulating abortion. …With respect to other contexts, courts would have to decide on a case by case basis the extent to which extending legal person status prenatally should expand the scope of an existing law.[63]

Regarding Amendment 62 in Colorado, one possibility would be for the legislature to revise the statutes, and for states and federal courts to “interpret the personhood measure narrowly,” in an effort to minimize its impact. Sensing the measure’s harmful implications, some legislators and judges might be tempted to wink at the “personhood” language and largely ignore it, but such a practice would spare Colorado residents the worst impacts of the measure only by undermining the rule of law. Moreover, anti-abortion lawyers and activists would surely work doggedly to force the Colorado government to fully implement and enforce the measure.

The change in the language of Amendment 62, in comparison to that of Amendment 48, while intended by the measures’ sponsors to make the measure even broader, might instead provide legal grounds to interpret it much more narrowly.

Unlike Amendment 48, Amendment 62 does not explicitly mention fertilization as the commencement of personhood and rights. Amendment 48 said, “The terms ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.”[64] Amendment 62, in contrast, seeks to apply the term “person” to “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”

Why did Personhood Colorado change the 2010 language from “the moment of fertilization” to “the beginning of biological development?” The Denver Daily News explains: “Co-sponsor of the ballot initiative, Gualberto Garcia Jones, believes it is important to include even asexual forms of human reproduction, such as if science leads to cloning human beings.” Jones told the newspaper, “We would like all human beings, regardless of how they come about, to be covered, because unfortunately there’s the possibility that cloning is going on right now, and we want them to be covered as well.”[65]

Personhood Colorado’s website explains the intended meaning of “the beginning of biological development” in greater detail:

The beginning of the biological development of a human being who is created through sexual reproduction is the instant when the sperm and the ovum touch to form a unique human being. It is different from fertilization or conception in that it accounts for modern forms of asexual reproduction such as cloning. In the case of a cloned human being, his or her biological beginning is when the DNA in the cell/cells is deprogrammed or reprogrammed to the same state of differentiation as a human organism.[66]

However, neither legislators nor courts are bound by the sponsors’ interpretation of the measure’s language, which contains no mention of the sperm touching the ovum. Various voters, lawyers, and judges may argue that a “human being” in the relevant sense means an implanted embryo, an older fetus, or a born infant. By one common-sense reading, Amendment 62 merely states an empty tautology: a human being begins when a human being begins. The ambiguity of the language may induce some to vote for the measure who would not agree with the proponents’ views. The ambiguity could also generate even more future legal battles should the measure pass.

The impact of a “personhood” measure would depend on its interpretation and enforcement by various levels of government. Due to its breadth, it would have sweeping effects on a state’s legal code, such that its implementation could only be haphazard. As a result, many people would be dragged through civil and criminal trials in test cases for seemingly ordinary actions. However, the advocates of “personhood” have for the most part stated their views of the proposed law clearly, and they would fight to implement the law accordingly. And to the degree that “personhood” is enforced, it would create a police-state nightmare for countless women, their partners, and their doctors.

Harsh Legal Penalties

If passed and enforced, a “personhood” measure would affect the meaning of the criminal law, mandating harsh legal penalties for harm done to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses. Intentionally harming a zygote would be a crime of the same magnitude as harming a born infant, and intentionally killing a zygote would be murder.

Colorado Statute 18-3-102 states, “A person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if…[a]fter deliberation and with the intent to cause the death of a person other than himself, he causes the death of that person or of another person…Murder in the first degree is a class 1 felony.” Thus, if a zygote is legally a person from the moment of fertilization, then any intentional act of preventing it from implanting (such as by taking the “morning after” pill) or aborting an embryo or fetus would be first-degree murder.

By Colorado law, the punishment for that crime would be life in prison or death. Statute 18-1.4-102 states, “Upon conviction of guilt of a defendant of a class 1 felony, the trial court shall conduct a separate sentencing hearing to determine whether the defendant should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment…”

While few supporters of Amendment 62 would likely endorse such draconian punishments, its intended meaning as articulated by its sponsors leaves no room for doubt: any woman who deliberately harms a zygote or who terminates her pregnancy would be guilty of murder under Colorado law. In fact, at least one Colorado religious leader has explicitly called for the death penalty for abortion (among other alleged offenses).[67] While American Right to Life does not directly advocate the death penalty for abortion, it explicitly calls abortion murder and “advocates the death penalty for everyone convicted of a capital crime.”[68]

In addition, coroners, police officers, and prosecutors might be obliged, pressured, or inspired to investigate or prosecute any miscarriage deemed suspicious. A woman suspected of inducing a miscarriage (or attempting to do so) could be subject to criminal prosecution, as could others suspected of helping her in the act.

Similarly, any actions of a pregnant woman that might endanger the welfare of her embryo or fetus could be considered child abuse, which doctors might be required to report. As Indra Lusero and Lynn Paltrow said of Colorado’s Amendment 48, “If the amendment passes, Colorado’s juvenile courts will have jurisdiction whenever doctors or family members disagree with a pregnant woman’s medical decisions.”[69]

Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

 

This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong’s and my new policy paper: The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I’m currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception

By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010

The ‘Personhood’ Movement

Campaigns in Other States

From 2008 to 2010, Personhood USA and like-minded groups participated in political campaigns in Georgia, Montana, Mississippi, Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, and other states. While Personhood USA fell short of “its goal for 2010: Personhood initiatives in all 50 states,” it extended its campaign to far beyond Colorado.[36]

On July 20, 2010, Georgia’s Republican voters approved by wide margins “personhood” language similar to that of the Colorado measure, endorsing the position that the “right to life is vested in each human being from their earliest biological beginning until natural death.” In only one county did Democratic voters express an opinion on the language, and they approved it as well.[37]

While “legally the outcome of the question bears no weight,” Dan Becker, president of Georgia Right to Life, “said he’ll use the stats to lobby the Legislature for a proposed constitutional amendment” in 2011, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.[38]

The “personhood” language on the primary ballots is part of a broader push for “personhood” in Georgia, as it is in Colorado. As the Journal-Constitution reported, the August 10 Republican primary for governor was a “major test of influence for Georgia’s most aggressive anti-abortion organization,” Georgia Right to Life, which endorsed Nathan Deal over Karen Handel.[39] The organization’s political action director, Melanie Crozier, said, “All six of the Republican front-runners for Governor have endorsed a Personhood Amendment to the Georgia Constitution.” She continued, “Karen Handel, while not endorsed by GRTL because of her opposition to pro-life positions, still maintains her support of a Personhood Amendment.”[40] Handel lost to Deal in a close race.[41] Here, Georgia’s “personhood” movement achieved its goal.

Georgia Republicans endorse candidates who advocate abortion bans for federal office too. Becker said, “During the 2008 Presidential primary, Georgia’s Republican voters selected the most pro-life candidate in the entire field, Gov. Mike Huckabee.” Becker notes that Huckabee “was the only viable candidate that endorsed a Personhood Amendment.”[42] Huckabee endorsed Colorado’s Amendment 48 in 2008 and campaigned on its behalf.[43]

In Montana, anti-abortion groups failed to collect sufficient signatures to place Constitutional Initiative 102 on the 2010 ballot. In seeking to amend the constitution’s provision protecting life, liberty, property, and due process, the language of the measure states, “As used in this section, the word ‘person’ applies to all human beings, irrespective of age, health, function, physical or mental dependency or method of reproduction, from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”[44]

Annie Bukacek, sponsor of the measure, “vowed that the group will…try again in 2012 and that [it] will start its signature gathering in June 2011,” the Billings Gazette reports.[45] A volunteer for the effort said, “The hardworking volunteers see this as a stepping stone to victory in 2011.” Cal Zastrow, co-founder of Personhood USA, added, “Jesus Christ is building a movement for personhood rights of babies across the country. He will continue to build in Montana…”[46]

Mississippi Initiative Measure 26 seeks to amend the Bill of Rights (Article III) of the state’s constitution by adding the following language as a new section: “As used in this Article III of the state constitution, ‘The term “person” or “persons” shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.’”[47]

The measure “is scheduled [to appear] on the ballot in November 2011,” reports the Associated Press. However, the AP notes, Jackson attorney Robert McDuff, in association with Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against the measure on July 6, arguing that “the initiative process can’t be used to change the state Bill of Rights.”[48] On August 12 the anti-abortion Liberty Counsel announced it would “file a motion to intervene” in the suit.[49]

Like the measure in Mississippi, the “personhood” proposal in Alaska remained subject to pending legal action as of mid-2010. In an October 22, 2009, letter, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Craig Campbell certified the application for the “Legal Personhood Initiative.”[50] The Lieutenant Governor’s web page lists a “petition file deadline” of November 5, 2010.[51]

However, as the lieutenant governor’s web page points out, “The Alaska Constitution cannot be altered or amended by initiative.”[52] The measure is therefore a proposed “act” stating: “All human beings, from the beginning of their biological development as human organisms, including a single-cell embryo, regardless of age, health, level of functioning, condition of dependency or method of reproduction, shall be recognized as legal persons in the state of Alaska.”[53]

In late 2009, the Anchorage Daily News summarized the legal challenge to the measure: “The lawsuit argues that Campbell should never have certified the measure. The plaintiffs contend the proposal has far-reaching potential consequences and there is no way voters can know what it might mean for state laws if it passed.”[54]

Personhood USA had planned to offer a constitutional amendment on Nevada’s 2010 ballot. While the main constitutional language was brief–”the term ‘person’ applies to every human being”–the measure’s “description of effect” contained language comparable to that used in other states and referred explicitly to extending rights to the “unborn.”[55]

However, as the Las Vegas Review-Journal explains, the proponents of the measure faced a delay in gathering signatures when “Carson City District Judge James T. Russell ruled Jan. 8 that the Personhood petition could not be circulated because its language was so vague that voters would not understand its intentions.” Keith Mason (co-founder of Personhood USA) told the newspaper, “We are committed to coming back to Nevada. We are building support for 2012.”[56]

In 2009, the North Dakota Senate voted down a “personhood” measure previously approved by the House. However, even the bill’s sponsor, Representative Dan Ruby, did not seem to be totally on board with Personhood USA’s agenda. He said, in contradiction to the organization’s position, that, after fertilization, “when an egg is not implanted [in the uterus]…it’s not even alive.”[57]

“Personhood” efforts have met with even less success in other states. While Personhood Florida submitted language for the 2010 ballot about “the beginning of biological development,” the measure “will not appear on a ballot,” Ballotpedia mentions without further elaboration.[58] While a California “personhood” group tried to place the “California Human Rights Amendment” on the 2010 ballot, it “failed to obtain enough signatures to qualify it.”[59]

In Missouri, tension arose within the anti-abortion movement over incremental reforms. Working with Personhood USA, Gregory Thompson and others attempted to place a “personhood” measure on the Missouri ballot.[60] What happened instead is that, on July 14, 2010, the governor allowed activation of a new law (Senate Bill 793) strengthening the state’s mandatory waiting period and notification laws pertaining to abortion. Abortion providers “will have to supply a state-produced brochure proclaiming: ‘The life of each human being begins at conception,’” the Associated Press reports.[61] While Missouri Right to Life praised the passage of the bill, Thompson condemned Missouri Right to Life for embracing “politicians that are ‘pro-death, with exceptions.’”[62] In this case, the “personhood” movement seems to have chipped away at abortion rights in Missouri, albeit in ways it does not endorse and without achieving its ultimate goals.

As of the summer of 2010, then, the “personhood” movement has found little success advancing its agenda by law. However, the movement has found strong support in some regions of the country, in certain religious communities, and among segments of the Republican Party. It has mobilized thousands of zealous activists committed to the movement’s long-term goals. It has gained experience in effective grass-roots activism. And it has learned to craft its message to gain support and diffuse opposition.

Personhood USA appears eager to continue advancing its agenda in 2011, 2012, and beyond, raising the possibility of success in some states in the future. Even if it fails to ever impose its definition of “personhood” by law, its campaigns may strengthen public opposition to abortion and encourage more incremental restrictions on abortion.

Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

 

This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong’s and my new policy paper: The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I’m currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception

By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010

The ‘Personhood’ Movement

Colorado Campaigns

The “personhood” movement launched its first major initiative in 2008 in Colorado with Amendment 48, which voters defeated in November by a margin of 73 to 27 percent.[18] (The same year, South Dakota voters defeated Measure 11, which sought to ban most abortions through abortion-specific language, and California voters rejected Proposition 4, which sought to institute a waiting period and parental notification requirements prior to obtaining an abortion.[19])

Despite the pointed defeat of Amendment 48, “personhood” advocates vowed to return in Colorado and expand their cause to other states. They have done that. In a 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Keith Mason, a co-founder of Personhood USA, said, “We have big and small efforts going on in 30 states right now…Our goal is to activate the population.” Mason likened his cause to the abolitionist movement to end slavery.[20] Apparently the “personhood” movement seeks to gain support over the long term, even if short-term electoral success proves impossible.

In 2010, Personhood Colorado (a group associated with Personhood USA) gathered sufficient signatures for a new measure, assigned to the Colorado ballot as Amendment 62.[21] Like Amendment 48, the new measure seeks to add a section to Colorado’s Bill of Rights extending full legal rights from the moment of conception. (Gualberto Garcia Jones, along with the vice president of Colorado Right to Life, Leslie Hanks, submitted the paperwork for Amendment 62.[22])

Amendment 62 states: “Section 32 [of Article II]. Person defined. As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the term ‘person’ shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”[23]

The implications of Amendment 62, then, must be evaluated in light of the other cited sections:

Section 3. Inalienable rights.

All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

Section 6. Equality of justice.

Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and a speedy remedy afforded for every injury to person, property or character; and right and justice should be administered without sale, denial or delay.

Section 25. Due process of law.

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

Essentially, Amendment 62 would grant the same legal rights to a newly fertilized zygote that a born infant enjoys. The measure would authorize police, prosecutors, judges, and other officials to intervene to protect embryos and fetuses just as they intervene to protect newborn infants. For example, as columnist Ed Quillen points out, “Every home miscarriage would have to be investigated by the coroner, for it’s his legal duty to look into all deaths of persons that do not occur under medical supervision.”[24] In every other way, an embryo or fetus would receive equivalent legal protection of a newborn.

A primary political strategy of Personhood Colorado has been to garner support among Republicans. In 2008, numerous high-profile Republican office holders and candidates endorsed “personhood”; in 2010 even more did so.

Colorado Right to Life issued similarly-worded candidate surveys in 2008 and 2010. The survey asks (among other things) whether candidates support “the God-given, inalienable Right to Life for the unborn”; “agree that abortion is always wrong, even when the baby’s father is a criminal (i.e. a rapist)”; endorse the “personhood” measure; and oppose “embryonic stem cell research.”[25]

In 2008, those who agreed completely with Colorado Right to Life’s agenda included Congressman Doug Lamborn (elected to the Fifth Congressional district in 2006); Congressman Mike Coffman (elected to the Sixth Congressional district in 2008); Jeff Crank (who lost the primary to Lamborn in 2008 but hosted a radio show and became state director of Americans for Prosperity); and (except for a question about incremental legislation) Kevin Lundberg (appointed to the state senate in 2009 after serving as state representative).[26]

In 2010, Colorado Right to Life proclaimed even greater Republican support for its agenda:

In 2008, most major candidates were unwilling to take a stand on Personhood. It’s possible that Bob Schaffer, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, lost because he did not endorse Personhood, and many voters did not consider him sufficiently pro-life. By contrast, in 2010, every credible Republican candidate for top statewide offices has said they support Personhood, and most of the credible Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and Congress have also expressed support for Personhood.[27]

Conservative activist Ed Hanks notes that “three of the seven candidates for districts in Congress are on record as supporting Personhood–Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman.”[28] Colorado Right to Life notes that Gardner, a candidate in the Fourth Congressional district, joined Lamborn and Coffman in expressing perfect agreement with the organization’s agenda.[29]

In the Republican primaries for governor and U.S. Senate, all four candidates endorsed “personhood,” and the staunchest anti-abortion candidates won. In the governor’s race, Dan Maes beat scandal-plagued Scott McInnis, who had previously served on the advisory board of Republicans for Choice and said he changed his mind on the issue.[30] (However, even though Colorado Right to Life considers Maes to be “100% pro-life,” he also said he supports current laws on birth control and regards Amendment 62 as “simply making a statement.”[31] Maes also selected a running mate who favors legal abortions in cases of rape and incest.[32]) In the Senate race, Ken Buck, who said, “I don’t believe in the exceptions [to abortion bans] of rape or incest,” beat Jane Norton, who favored exceptions for “rape, incest, and life of the mother” (earning her criticism from Colorado Right to Life).[33]

Still, many Colorado Republicans seem confused or conflicted about the implications of “personhood.” At the 2010 Republican state convention, 79 percent supported a resolution holding that “life begins at conception and is deserving of legal protection from conception until natural death.” However, 74 percent also endorsed the statement that “pregnancy, abortion, and birth control are personal private matters not subject to government regulation or interference.”[34] Moreover, some Republicans actively oppose “personhood”; in 2008 former Republican Senator Hank Brown joined the Republican Majority for Choice in opposing Amendment 48.[35] While the “personhood” movement clearly finds strong support among Colorado Republicans and seeks to build that support, many Republicans express concern about the measure’s legal implications or oppose it outright.

Colorado voters will likely reject Amendment 62 in 2010, albeit perhaps by a smaller margin than with Amendment 48 in 2008. However, Personhood Colorado will likely gather enough signatures for a similar measure in 2012.

Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

 

This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong’s and my new policy paper: The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I’m currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception

By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010

The ‘Personhood’ Movement

The “personhood” movement is a recent off-shoot of the “pro-life” movement. It is motivated, energetic, and idealistic. To understand its likely impact on American politics and law, we must review its origins and recent political activism.

“Personhood” and the Abortion Debate

Where does the “personhood” movement fit in the overall debate over abortion? Policy debates over abortion in America often assume just two camps: “pro-choice” on abortion and “pro-life,” or opposed to abortion. In fact, people advocate a variety of views on abortion, depending on their answers to two basic questions: (1) when during pregnancy (if ever) should abortion be legal, and (2) for what reasons?

As we shall see, the advocates of “personhood” are among the most consistent opponents of abortion, explicitly claiming that the zygote is a fully human person with an inalienable right to life. Our view, in contrast, argues for the woman’s right to abortion as absolute throughout pregnancy. Between those two extremes, various “moderate” views can be found.

The fully pro-choice position which we endorse rejects any and all restrictions on abortion as an infringement of the rights of the woman. On this view, abortion should be legal until birth, solely at the discretion of the pregnant woman. Even when a woman deserves blame for acting capriciously in deciding to terminate her pregnancy, she is within her rights to do as she pleases with her own body. Ultimately, that is because neither the embryo nor fetus has any rights. Rights begin at birth, when the fetus becomes an infant, biologically separate from the pregnant woman.

We regard this principled position as the only true “pro-choice” position, because only it fully recognizes and respects a woman’s right to govern her own body as she sees fit. We also regard it as the only truly “pro-life” position, because restrictions and bans on abortion seriously harm and sometimes destroy the lives of actual people.

Many people adopt a moderate “pro-choice” position by accepting restrictions on abortion. Such people might endorse the waiting periods or ultrasounds demanded by opponents of abortion. More commonly, they hold that early-term abortions should be legal, while later-term abortions should be restricted.

The Supreme Court drew such a distinction between early and late term abortions in its decision on Roe v. Wade. In 1973, the Court overturned state prohibitions of abortion (as well as possible future federal prohibitions), ruling: “For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.” However, the Court also ruled that states may restrict abortion for the “health of the mother” or “in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life” in the later stages of pregnancy.[1]

In the past, the Catholic Church accepted a similar compromise position, albeit far more on the anti-abortion side. Today, the Vatican emphatically denies that the Church ever morally accepted abortion at any stage, yet it grants that “in the Middle Ages…the opinion was generally held that the spiritual soul was not present until after the first few weeks…”[2] So, as researcher Leslie Reagan states, “Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Catholic Church implicitly accepted early abortions prior to ensoulment.”[3]

Today, the most common moderate “pro-life” or anti-abortion view is that abortions should be permitted in cases of rape and incest, as well as to save the life of the mother. In 2000, Republican presidential contenders George W. Bush and John McCain favored such exceptions for rape and incest.[4] On that view, the embryo or fetus cannot be said to have an inalienable right to life. Instead, the common argument is that a woman must pay the natural price for her decision to engage in consensual sex by enduring its known consequence: pregnancy. Almost all abortion, on this view, is an evasion of responsibility.

The Catholic Church now advocates the strict “pro-life” view that abortion should be banned, whatever the circumstances. In the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI condemned “the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons.” The basic rationale was that abortion (and artificial birth control) is contrary to “the order of reality established by God” whereby “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”[5]

The advocates of “personhood” adopt a similar position on abortion: it must be banned whatever the circumstances. However, their view is based on the evangelical strain of Protestantism. As a result, their arguments that abortion is contrary to God’s will are based on (strained) interpretations of Bible passages, rather than appeals to abstract theology.[6] In their secular arguments, the advocates of “personhood” appeal to the fundamentally American notion of an inalienable right to life, claiming that for the embryo and fetus. As a result of those differences, the “personhood” movement does not reject birth control, as does the Catholic Church, provided that it solely acts to prevent fertilization of the egg by sperm.

The basic goal of the “personhood” movement is to “clearly define the pre-born baby as a person” so that embryos and fetuses “will have the same right to life as all Americans do.” It seeks to declare that a zygote is a “human being” and “person” from the moment of conception. “Personhood” advocates reject the claim that “life” or rights begin at “quickening,” when a fetus begins to move in the womb. Instead, they claim that ultrasonography, “DNA testing,” and the “science of fetology…prove…that a fully human and unique individual exists at the moment of fertilization.”[7]

Due to its clear rights-based approach, the “personhood” movement condemns moderate “pro-life” positions in the harshest possible terms. For example, American Right to Life, which proclaims itself as “the personhood wing of the pro-life movement,” condemned John McCain in 2008 as “pro-abortion,” saying he “rejects that an unborn child has the right to life” because, for example, he thinks abortion should be permitted if the “father is a rapist.”[8]

From a more historical perspective, the “personhood” movement is a recent manifestation of the religious right’s response to Roe v. Wade. In Religion In American Politics, Frank Lambert suggests that the Moral Majority of the 1970s largely reacted to “the radical politics of the sixties,” including the “‘proabortion’ forces” that prevailed in Roe v. Wade. (In fact, support for abortion rights obviously extends far beyond left-wing or “radical” politics). The Moral Majority sought to organize “evangelical leaders [to] boldly engage the culture” and advance the “pro-life” cause as part of their agenda.[9]

The “personhood” movement does not conceal these religious roots. Personhood USA, for example, declares that its “primary mission” is “to serve Jesus by being an Advocate for those who can not speak for themselves, the pre-born child.”[10] The organization is “led by Christian ministers… who are missionaries to preborn children. …They also lead and participate in peaceful pro-life activism, evangelism, and ministry” at abortion clinics, and they seek to “honor the Lord Jesus Christ” with their work.[11]

In their political activism, “personhood” advocates seek a fundamental change in the law rather than incremental changes, such as banning late-term abortions or imposing waiting periods before a woman may obtain an abortion. In addition to championing total abortion bans, “personhood” advocates explicitly seek to outlaw forms of birth control, fertility treatments, and medical research that may result in the destruction of an embryo. They say they want to protect every zygote from the moment of fertilization–and they mean it.

Since its major efforts began in 2008, the “personhood” movement has emphasized the goal of reversing Roe v. Wade as a critical step in imposing abortion bans. A document from Colorado for Equal Rights states, “Why redefine the term person? In the famous Roe v Wade Supreme Court case Justice Blackmun said basically that the whole argument for abortion rights falls apart if we know that the pre-born is a person.”[12] Similarly, LifeSiteNews.com paraphrases then-prominent Colorado anti-abortion activist Kristi Burton: “The time is ripe for a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade.”[13] In its 2008 candidate questionnaire, Colorado Right to Life states, “Colorado RTL opposes every law that regulates the killing of unborn children because, regardless of the intention, such laws…will keep abortion legal if Roe v. Wade is merely overturned…”[14] In 2009, Gualberto Garcia Jones, more recently a sponsor of Amendment 62, said, “All of our laws that we’re promoting are direct challenges to Roe v. Wade.”[15]

By promoting campaigns to legally recognize embryos and fetuses as persons from the moment of fertilization, the “personhood” movement has sought to change public attitudes about abortion. Personhood USA has taken credit for polling results showing increased support for abortion bans.[16] Indeed, starting in 2009, Gallup polling showed that, for the first time, more Americans called themselves “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”[17] (While we contend the anti-abortion stance is in fact the anti-life one, generally Americans understand that for such polling purposes “pro-life” indicates anti-abortion.) While Personhood USA is partly a result of an increasingly energetic anti-abortion movement, rather than the cause of it, the activities of “personhood” activists probably have helped sway public opinion.

A closer look at the political campaigns waged by the “personhood” movement will better reveal its beliefs and strategies.

Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

 

This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong’s and my new policy paper: The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. Over the next few weeks, I’ll post the full paper as a series of blog posts. This post contains the preliminaries and the introduction. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception

By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government
www.SecularGovernment.us
Published on August 31, 2010

Contents

Preface

The Coalition for Secular Government advocates government solely based on secular principles of individual rights. The protection of a person’s basic rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness–including freedom of religion and conscience–requires a strict separation of church and state.

Consequently, we oppose any laws or policies based on religious scripture or dogma, such as restrictions on abortion and government discrimination against homosexuals. We oppose any government promotion of religion, such as “intelligent design” taught in government schools and tax-funded “faith-based initiatives.” We also oppose any special exemptions or privileges granted by government to religious groups, such as exemptions for churches from the tax law applicable to other non-profits.

The Coalition for Secular Government seeks to educate the public about the necessary secular foundation of a free society, particularly the principles of individual rights and separation of church and state.

Ari Armstrong publishes Free Colorado and co-authors a column for Western Colorado’s Grand Junction Free Press. He is the author of Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles, a book exploring the heroic fight for life-promoting values in the Potter novels.

Diana Hsieh founded the Coalition for Secular Government in 2008. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is currently working on a book on Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, based on her series of podcasts at ExploreAtlasShrugged.com. More of her work can be found at DianaHsieh.com.

An earlier version of this paper was published on August 19, 2008, under the title, “Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person”.

The authors would like to thank Paul Hsieh and Jeremy Sheetz for proofreading the paper, as well as Jennifer Armstrong for proofreading and design. The authors would also like to thank the 63 private donors who made this revised and expanded paper possible.

Introduction

Amendment 62, set to appear on Colorado’s 2010 ballot, seeks to legally establish personhood from the moment of conception, granting a fertilized egg (or zygote) full legal rights in the state’s constitution. Following in the footsteps of 2008′s Amendment 48, Amendment 62 is the spearhead of a national campaign to outlaw abortion and other practices that could harm a zygote, embryo, or fetus.

If fully implemented, Amendment 62 would profoundly and adversely impact the lives of sexually-active couples, couples seeking children, pregnant women and their partners, doctors, and medical researchers. It would subject them to severe legal restrictions, police controls, and in many cases protracted court battles and criminal punishments.

Amendment 62 would outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, terminally deformed fetuses, and danger to the woman’s health. It would prohibit doctors from performing abortions except perhaps in some cases to save the life of the woman, thereby endangering the lives and health of many women. In conjunction with existing statutes, Amendment 62 would subject women and their doctors to first-degree murder charges for willfully terminating a pregnancy, with the required punishment of life in prison or the death penalty.

The impact of Amendment 62 would extend far beyond abortion into the personal corners of every couple’s reproductive life. It would outlaw many forms of birth control, including the pill, IUD, and “morning after” drugs. It would require criminal investigation of any miscarriages deemed suspicious. It would ban potentially life-saving embryonic stem-cell research and common fertility treatments.

Amendment 62 rests on the absurd premise that a newly fertilized zygote is a full human person with an absolute right to biological life-support from a woman–regardless of her wishes and whatever the cost to her. The biological facts of pregnancy, in conjunction with an objective theory of rights, support a different view, namely that personhood and rights begin at birth. Colorado law should reflect those facts, not the Bible verses so often quoted (and creatively interpreted) by advocates of Amendment 62 and other “personhood” measures.

Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

 

From www.seculargovernment.us/a62.shtml:

The Coalition for Secular Government is pleased to announce the release of its policy paper on the “personhood” movement by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh (Ph.D): The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception (PDF or HTML).

The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception

by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D.

A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)

Published on August 31, 2010

Formats: HTML or PDF

Contents

From the Introduction

Amendment 62, set to appear on Colorado’s 2010 ballot, seeks to legally establish personhood from the moment of conception, granting a fertilized egg (or zygote) full legal rights in the state’s constitution. Following in the footsteps of 2008′s Amendment 48, Amendment 62 is the spearhead of a national campaign to outlaw abortion and other practices that could harm a zygote, embryo, or fetus.

If fully implemented, Amendment 62 would profoundly and adversely impact the lives of sexually-active couples, couples seeking children, pregnant women and their partners, doctors, and medical researchers. It would subject them to severe legal restrictions, police controls, and in many cases protracted court battles and criminal punishments.

Amendment 62 would outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, terminally deformed fetuses, and danger to the woman’s health. It would prohibit doctors from performing abortions except perhaps in some cases to save the life of the woman, thereby endangering the lives and health of many women. In conjunction with existing statutes, Amendment 62 would subject women and their doctors to first-degree murder charges for willfully terminating a pregnancy, with the required punishment of life in prison or the death penalty.

The impact of Amendment 62 would extend far beyond abortion into the personal corners of every couple’s reproductive life. It would outlaw many forms of birth control, including the pill, IUD, and “morning after” drugs. It would require criminal investigation of any miscarriages deemed suspicious. It would ban potentially life-saving embryonic stem-cell research and common fertility treatments.

Amendment 62 rests on the absurd premise that a newly fertilized zygote is a full human person with an absolute right to biological life-support from a woman–regardless of her wishes and whatever the cost to her. The biological facts of pregnancy, in conjunction with an objective theory of rights, support a different view, namely that personhood and rights begin at birth. Colorado law should reflect those facts, not the Bible verses so often quoted (and creatively interpreted) by advocates of Amendment 62 and other “personhood” measures.

About the Authors

Ari Armstrong publishes Free Colorado and co-authors a column for Western Colorado’s Grand Junction Free Press. He is the author of Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles, a book exploring the heroic fight for life-promoting values in the Potter novels.

Diana Hsieh founded the Coalition for Secular Government in 2008. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is currently working on a book on Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, based on her series of podcasts at ExploreAtlasShrugged.com. More of her work can be found at DianaHsieh.com.

Read The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception (PDF or HTML).

 

[Crossposted from Politics without God.]

Much to my dismay and disgust, Colorado’s two Republican candidates for Senate, Jane Norton and Ken Buck, have endorsed Colorado’s 2010 “personhood” amendment, a.k.a Amendment 62. That proposed amendment would grant full legal rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization.

As Ari Armstrong and I explained in our soon-to-be-updated 2008 policy paper — Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person — this “personhood for zygotes” amendment would have dire legal consequences if passed and enforced. It would require abortions to be punished as first-degree murders, except perhaps to save the woman’s life. It would ban any form of birth control that might sometimes prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus — including the birth control pill. And it would ban viable forms in vitro fertilization because the process usually creates more fertilized eggs than can be safely implanted in the womb. In short, the measure poses a grave threat to the life, liberty, health, and happiness of the women and men of Colorado.

Many Republicans in Colorado seem to be evading the plain meaning of the amendment. As Ari Armstrong explains, they claim to support it, while denying that it’s anything more than a symbolic gesture. So where do the Ken Buck and Jane Norton stand?

Ari Armstrong has discussed Jane Norton’s anti-abortion views here. She’s in favor of Amendment 62, because she believes that “life begins at conception.” Of course, when “life” begins is not relevant: my pancreas is alive — and human. The question is when rights begin — and that happens at birth. Moreover, Norton would allow abortions in cases of rape and incest, even though such abortions would violate the supposed rights of the zygote or fetus just as much as any other abortion.

Even more than Norton, Ken Buck seems to endorse “personhood for zygotes” wholeheartedly. Via the Colorado Independent, we find Buck’s basic statement of his views:

QUESTION: How do you feel about abortion? Are you for abortion, against abortion, are you for it? In what instances would you allow for abortion?

BUCK: I am pro-life, and I’ll answer the next question. I don’t believe in the exceptions of rape or incest. I believe that the only exception, I guess, is life of the mother. And that is only if it’s truly life of the mother.

To me, you can’t say you’re pro-life and say — if there is, and it’s a very rare situation where one life would have to cease for the other life to exist. But in that very rare situation, we may have to take the life of the child to save the life of the mother.

In that rare situation, I am in favor of that exception. But other than that I have no exceptions in my position.

So if the life of a pregnant woman is merely in peril, as opposed to facing certain death, then Ken Buck would deny her an abortion, until perhaps too late. Or if the pregnant woman’s health would be permanently ruined, such that she’d be disabled for life, Ken Buck would deny her an abortion.

Ken Buck seeks to force women to sacrifice their lives, their health, their dreams, their values to a tiny clump of cells without any human qualities except DNA.

That’s not “pro-life” … it’s frightfully anti-life. And if it’s not opposed on moral grounds, people like Ken Buck will eventually have their way.

Aug 032010
 

Due to some server downtime this morning, I’ve decided to extend the deadline for pledges for the “personhood” paper to tomorrow at noon.

So if you’d like to help Ari Armstrong and me fight the push for “personhood for zygotes” by pledging for an updated policy paper on the “personhood” amendment that’s on the ballot in Colorado this year, please do so by noon on Wednesday!

Many thanks to everyone who has already pledged! We appreciate your support more than we can say!

 

Do you want to fight back against the theocrats of the religious right? Do you want to help protect our rights to abortion, birth control, and IVF? We can help you do that!

The “personhood” movement demands full legal rights for zygotes. Born in Colorado, it’s growing in influence and spreading across America. If successful, these theocrats would destroy a woman’s right to her own body.

You can help Ari Armstrong and me fight the push for “personhood for zygotes” by pledging for an updated policy paper on the “personhood” amendment that’s on the ballot in Colorado this year.

Keep reading for more details… and a pledge form. But please don’t delay: pledges are due on Tuesday, August 3rd at noon. That’s tomorrow!

Once again, Colorado has a proposed “personhood” amendment on the ballot this year: it would grant full legal rights to zygotes. If enforced consistently, it would ban abortion (except perhaps to save the life of the mother), the birth control pill (because that might sometimes prevent implantation), and the most popular forms of IVF. This movement is not limited to Colorado. “Personhood USA” reports on activity in over 30 states, and it’s on the ballot in many counties in Georgia.

Ari and I want to substantially revise our policy paper from 2008: Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person. We want to improve and rework the paper, e.g. to discuss the GOP’s embrace of personhood in Colorado, the spread of the “personhood” movement across America, and the new campaign strategy likening fetuses to slaves. We want to promote the paper like we did in 2008 — with media releases, op-eds, letters to the editor, blog comments, interviews, etc.

Our 2008 paper was downloaded 4,000 times before the election. We want even better numbers in 2010.

Our 2008 paper was the most in-depth and substantive discussion of the right to and morality of abortion from an Objectivist perspective ever written. We want to make it even stronger and clearer with this update.

In 2008, Ari and I devoted many weeks of our lives to fighting “personhood” without any compensation. This time, particularly because we have so many other demands on our time, we’re asking for your help. We expect the revisions to and release of the paper to require two solid weeks of work from each of us, then more time to promote it until the election. That’s not trivial.

We’re asking you to help us by pledging your money in exchange for our work.

We want to raise $2000 in pledges for the new policy paper by Tuesday, August 3rd at noon. In return, we promise to deliver the revised paper by August 31st, then promote it until the November election. We’ve almost reached our goal of $2000, and I just know that we can do it! (If we raise more than that $2000 in pledges, we’ll collect just $2000, pro-rating each pledge accordingly.) Your pledge won’t be due until we release the updated paper. That’s because you’re not pledging for effort but for results. If we don’t release the paper for some reason, then you’ll owe nothing.

You can pledge here:

[It's too late to pledge! Go read the paper!]

You’ll find further details here, but please feel free to e-mail me with any questions.

 

Once again, the religious right is launching a massive assault on reproductive rights in Colorado — and in other states too — by demanding for full legal rights for fertilized eggs. Ari Armstrong and I are asking for your help to fund an updated policy paper explaining the moral and practical evils of Colorado’s new “personhood” amendment.

In 2008, the theocrats of the religious right gathered the requisite signatures to put a “personhood” amendment on Colorado’s ballot. Known as Amendment 48, this proposed amendment to the state constitution sought to define a fertilized egg as a person with full legal rights in the Colorado constitution. Amendment 48 was defeated resoundingly with 73% against and 27% in favor.

Unfortunately, the crusade for “personhood” did not perish with Amendment 48. Instead, the crusaders went national, expanding the activity of Personhood USA to over 30 states. They’re back in Colorado for the 2010 election with Amendment 62, a slightly modified version of Amendment 48.

Colorado’s Amendment 62 would grant full legal rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization. It proposes:

An amendment to the Colorado Constitution applying the term ‘person’ as used in those provisions of the Colorado Constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law, to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.

If passed and enforced, the measure would require abortions to be punished as first-degree murders, except perhaps to save the woman’s life. It would ban any form of birth control that might sometimes prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus — including the birth control pill. And it would ban viable forms in vitro fertilization because the process usually creates more fertilized eggs than can be safely implanted in the womb. The measure poses a grave threat to the life, liberty, health, and happiness of the women and men of Colorado.

In 2008, the Coalition for Secular Government published a policy paper by Ari Armstrong and myself entitled Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person. We devoted countless volunteer hours to write, publish, and promote the paper. We’re proud of the results of that work: our paper offered the only substantive moral critique of the proposed amendment and a detailed analysis of its effects.

Now Ari Armstrong and I need to update that policy paper for 2010′s Amendment 62. We want the new paper to reflect the changes in the language of the amendment, as well as better address the arguments made in favor of “personhood.” We’d like to discuss the worse political climate in Colorado, plus the spread of the “personhood” movement to other states. And once again, we’d like to promote the new paper via media releases, op-eds, and letters to the editor.

That work will be substantial: Ari and I expect the project to require two solid weeks of work from each of us. And we have other pressing demands on our time.

So we’re asking you to contribute to the update of that policy paper by pledging your money in exchange for our work. We want to raise $2000 in pledges for the new policy paper — by August 3rd at noon. In return, we promise to deliver the revised paper by August 31st, then promote it until the November election. If we raise less than that $2000 in pledges, we’ll still revise the paper, but we’ll scale back our efforts accordingly. If we raise more than that $2000 in pledges, we’ll collect just $2000, pro-rating each pledge accordingly. Your pledge won’t be due until we release the updated paper. That’s because you’re not pledging for effort but for results. If we don’t release the paper for some reason, then you’ll owe nothing.

If you want to stop the theocrats in Colorado and other states … if you want to preserve our rights to abortion, birth control, and in vitro fertilization … if you want to protect the health and lives of American women — please pledge using the form below.

In the “Question or Comment” field, we’d love to hear why you’re supporting our fight against the “personhood” movement. If you have questions or arguments that you’d like to see addressed in the updated policy paper, please include those too.

[It's too late to pledge! Go read the paper!]

Most of all, thank you for your support!

Questions and Answers about Pledging

How much should I pledge?

That’s entirely up to you. You should pledge whatever amount our efforts are worth to you, in light of your resources. Any pledge is welcome.

How can I know what positions and arguments policy paper will contain?

I’d recommend that you read the original version of the paper: Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person. We’re proud of that work: we stand by all the claims and arguments in it. In addition, you can read CSG’s summary of and publications on Amendment 48, as well our recent blog posts on Amendment 62.

Will anyone know that I’ve pledged?

Your name, e-mail, pledge amount, and comment will not be published or otherwise shared with anyone outside CSG unless required by law.

What if I change my mind after I pledge?

If you wish to increase your pledge, you can always pledge more. Just submit another pledge to be added to your existing pledges. If you make a mistake in your pledge, you can e-mail me at diana@dianahsieh.com before August 3rd. If you want to back out of your pledge… well, I won’t have any legal way of enforcing this contract, but if you welch on your bill, you’re a schmuck!

When will I find out whether you’ve gathered enough pledges for the full revision?

The pledge drive ends at noon on August 3rd. Sometime that day, I’ll e-mail everyone who pledged with the results, as well as post an announcement to Politics without God.

How do I pay?

You’ll be able to pay via PayPal, or you can send a check or money order. I prefer PayPal, but paper methods are fine too. (I will collect the pledges, then split those funds evenly with Ari Armstrong.)

Will my pledge be tax-deductible?

No. The Coalition for Secular Government is a non-profit corporation in Colorado, but the paperwork required by the federal government for tax-exemption is simply too burdensome.

What if I’m not satisfied with the policy paper?

If the policy paper doesn’t offer the value you expected, then we will void your pledge and refund any money paid. All that you have to do is e-mail me explaining why you’re dissatisfied.

Why are you doing this?

Ari Armstrong and I have devoted much time and effort to battling the religious right, but we have many demands on our time. We want to make sure that others value the work that we’re doing, and we want to be fairly paid for that work.

What do I do if I have some other question?

Please e-mail me at diana@dianahsieh.com. I’ll update these questions to clarify as needed.

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