I Am a Person; My Eggs Are Not

It’s official: The Mississippi Supreme Court has denied an ACLU challenge and ruled, 7-2, to let the “Personhood Amendment” be listed on the state ballot in November. The amendment to Mississippi’s Constitutional would:

define the word ‘person’ or ‘persons’ … to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.

The implications of such an amendment are, frankly, astounding. The medical establishment, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has long defined pregnancy as beginning with implantation, not fertilization. That’s in part because fully half of all fertilized eggs never divide, never implant, or spontaneously abort.

Defining fertilized eggs as people would likely make any action or medication that prevents implantation illegal. That includes not only abortion, but also most hormonal contraceptives and the IUD. It could also rule out life-saving abortion in cases of ectopic pregnancy, when a fertilized egg has implanted outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube, which results in a woman’s death if left untreated. Leola Reis at Planned Parenthood Southeast told Ms., “Bottom line, this bill puts politics above the health and safety of women.”

The “personhood” movement dates back to the 1980s, when Jesse Helms and others such proposed several federal egg-as-person amendments that never made it to a vote. The movement then went quiet for a while, but when the 1992 Supreme Court Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision allowed states to begin passing more restrictive laws against abortion, it began to regain steam.

The anti-abortion establishment has not always supported personhood legislation, primarily due to concerns that a legal challenge would bring abortion back to the Supreme Court at a time when the court didn’t have an anti-choice majority. A similar personhood amendment failed in Colorado in 2008 and 2010.

But according to The New Republic, criticism of the Mississippi amendment from within the anti-choice movement has been light. The personhood push has gained the support of prominent evangelicals such as Mike Huckabee, who delivered the keynote address at a Personhood Mississippi fundraiser just last week. Similar measures are already being planned for next year in Florida, Montana and Ohio.

Once marginalized, the personhood movement can now be seen as part of broader anti-choice agenda that includes opposition to birth control. According to the Guttmacher Institute:

Many in the antiabortion movement clearly understand the modes of action for contraceptive methods, especially the hormonal methods. Understanding that, they have to know that the end result of enforcing a definition that [life] begins at fertilization would implicate not just some hormonal methods, but all of them.

My guess is that anti-choicers finally feel they’ve got the Supreme Court they need to overturn Roe v. Wade. If the initiative passes, it will inevitably be challenged in court.

So what hope do we have? For starters, the movement’s attempts to connect their efforts to civil rights may backfire with Mississippi’s 588,000 registered African American voters. Although the initiative champions have attempted to link their effort to overturn Roe with the overturning of the racist Dred Scott decision, this pseudo-civil-rights rhetoric doesn’t sit well with civil-rights advocates like Akiba Solomon of Colorlines, who says:

To be sure, I’m not surprised by this perversion of my history. After all, Personhood Mississippi is the same group that sponsored a “Conceived in Rape” tour championing the inalienable rights of rapists’ sperm. The organization is also headed up by Les Riley, an “eighth-generation Mississippian” and “one stubborn Celt” who has blogged for a Christian secessionist group. But I do fear folks like this. We’re in a dangerous time where ideologues make mystery meat out of basic history and widely distribute this propaganda on conservative radio, online and on Fox News.

Within days of the Court’s decision to allow the amendment on the ballot, a group has formed to oppose the initiative called Mississippians for Healthy Families:

We must let every Mississippian who cares about women’s health know about the extreme consequences of Initiative 26–and we only have 54 days to do it. Let’s go!

Sign up here to get involved.

Cross Posted at hld6

Photo of bowl and spoons depicting fertilization from Flickr user gniliep under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. No wonder Jesus said to the women around him during his passion…”Weep not for me. Weep for yourselves and for your children”. The same ignorant violent lying forces that killed him are out to kill women – especially independent women.

  2. Joan Cordeniz says:

    When ranked against other states, Mississippi’s economy, job outlook, education, health care system, housing, social services, environment and every other measure one would use to judge quality of life routinely comes in 49th or 50th place. So rather than answer to the voters for their abysmal state, the state legislature and governor distract them with wedge social issues like this. Unfortunately, they are using this play on the national level as well. We need to demand substance from our government, not divisive social policies.

  3. There are actually people who support defining eggs as people? You know, if I were to suggest sperm were people and anything that killed them would be considered murder, everyone would call me crazy.

    Some more stuff about this… How are we even going to define personhood now? Because dolphins and parrots are closer to my definition of personhood than a human fetus, let alone an egg. Nevertheless, the personhood argument should be irrelevant. It’s a woman’s body, and no one or no thing should be allowed to violate it.

  4. With all due respect, there are some patently false statements in this article regarding the “implications” of the amendment. Don’t believe the hype. Get the facts: Personhod will NOT outlaw contraceptives, NOT end IVF, NOT cause miscarriages to be investigated, NOT prevent doctors from saving the life of the mother in situations like ectopic pregnancy. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYGSm92aHE4 ) Personhood WILL stop abortion, and that is the only reason that rumors and outright lies like the ones above are being spread.

    • Matt, you need a healthy dose of reality.

      Mississippi has already prosecuted women who have had miscarriages because they believed these miscarriages could have been avoided if the women took better care of themselves. Women who were on drugs prior to pregnancy have been arrested, even if there’s no concrete evidence that those drugs caused a miscarriage.
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/24/ameri

      Now they’re defining a “person” as an egg, which will mean that any contraception that stops a fertilized egg from being implanted (including emergency “Plan B” contraception that is given to a woman after she has been raped) will become illegal.

      The forced-birth movement has never given a rat’s tail about abortion. Outlawing the most reliable forms of birth control will only cause more unwanted pregnancies – and more abortions. It will just happen as it happened prior to Roe v. Wade: The rich women will get them by either bribing their doctors or traveling to a location where abortions are still legal. Poor women will be left in back alleys or will try to self abort. Just keep telling yourself that this is OK as the fertilized egg has more power than the woman who may not be physically, emotionally or financially able to carry a pregnancy to term.

      Also, you might want to educate yourself regarding the birth of the forced-birth movement. Remember, civil rights leaders and religious leaders initially cheered the passage of Roe v. Wade. You should then learn what happened that got them to decide that turning women into 2nd class citizens was good for raising money.
      http://www.socialdems.com/page.asp?pid=1455

    • Aside from the fact that it’s an extremist position by people who hate women who make reproductive choices, personhood COULD stop various types of birth control and impact cases such as ectopic preganancy. Face it, that’s the ultimate goal of the wingnuts who want this type of fascist requirement. And, it will NOT STOP ABORTION – it’s just cause untold suffering for women who seek out abortion regardless of legality or not, at the risk of their own lives.

    • Matt, the Personhood Amendment would only stop LEGAL abortion. Mississippi women will end up in the ERs from trying to induce a miscarriage and from back-alley abortions. Abortion existed before Roe, it just wasn’t safe. Making abortion illegal again will only result in the deaths of women. Being pro-PA is being pro-femicide.

  5. It’s now official: Mississippi is now more radically conservative in terms of women’s health and contraception than Pakistan. Pakistan has now decided that contraception is vital to lowering the maternal death rate and is stressing the need for young married couples to use contraception.
    http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=68823&Cat=4

    Mississippi, on the other hand, is now in the process of making it illegal to use most forms of contraception.

    I’m very happy for the women in Pakistan.
    I’m very stunned and saddened that the women in Mississippi are afforded fewer rights then women in the Middle East.

  6. If my eggs where considered people wouldn’t that mean that every month I’m automatically killing somebody?

  7. Lyndsy Lafenhagen says:

    I am a woman proud of having choices, freedom to vote, to choose my spouse, to leave a marriage if my husband is abusive to me or my children, etc. I am pro-women and therefore pro-life. I say all this as a woman whose father attempted to force my mother to have an abortion when she was pregnant with me. Both my parents absolutely adore me now…and I do both of them, my father included.

    Yes, abortions existed before Roe v Wade…and will continue to exist long after any possibility of it being overturned. But with that mentality, we could then argue for the FDA to regulate any type of drug. Every type of known drug is killing people. There are complications from a simple single use to bingers to everyday users, but that doesn’t mean we make it legal. Abortions, both legalized and otherwise, kill mothers, not just the unborn child within her womb. The issue here isn’t about eggs alone being people, but fertilized eggs. If the fertilized egg fails to implant, so be it. It failed to develop naturally. If we abort the plan (the fertilized egg) from its natural course of development once the sperm and egg have fertilized, that’s abortion. Agreeing with Matt, this isn’t an issue of contraceptives, emergency d and c’s in cases of life or death for the mother, or in vitro, etc. While some may drag those issues in, that’s not what pro-lifer (not anti-choicers) are about. We are about the health of the mother, father, and unborn child, physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.

    • Being forced to carry a child due to rape or incest could have a disasterous effect psychologically on a woman. And even though you aren’t against birth control MANY of the people fighting for this are. Denying people birth control would be a huge mistake. A fetus 12 weeks or younger is not a person, it can’t feel pain and has no idea what is happening.

      Not to mention the number of women who do go through great pains to prevent pregnancy but get pregnant anyway. I’m married but we don’t want kids nor do we have the means to pay for a pregnancy, delivery, and raising a child. I have a severe fear/phobia of giving birth and being pregnant. If my birth control failed it is my right to decide to end that pregnancy in a timely manner.

      And guess what? In “red” states where abstinence only is taught there is are higher rates of teenage pregnancy, STDs, divorce, and abortion. Offering birth control ultimately keeps the rate of abortions and unwanted pregnancies down. Again, you might think the pill and other hormonal birth control is perfectly ok. But a great number of people fighting abortion are against that as well. They are against any sex that is outside of marriage and when the purpose isn’t to conceive. It’s a personal choice, no one is forced into abortion or birth control. Again, a fetus is not aware of what is happening to it in the firt 12 weeks, probably much longer too. A huge majority of abortions happen in the first 12 weeks. They happen later when women can’t find a provider, have trouble saving the money, or when there is a threat to the life and health of the mother that is not known until later.

      Phew… I wrote way too much. If this is your position why are you even on Ms.? I have no good way to end this post, I just find your position illogical and somewhat cruel.

      • Lyndsy Lafenhagen says:

        Corrinne,

        I am on ms because I care about the welfare of life: mother, father, child. I also realize that I have not “arrived” in that I do not have everything figured out. I like to read articles from people who have different view points than my own so that I continue to grow as a person and do not get stuck with a handicapped mindset that my way is the right way without being fully educated on the issue.

        To respond to your statements that “A fetus 12 weeks or younger is not a person, it can’t feel pain and has no idea what is happening” and “Again, a fetus is not aware of what is happening to it in the first 12 weeks, probably much longer too,” I encourage you to research your claims. When you do, you will find that an unborn child at only 8 WEEKS has developed adequate sensory nerves to feel pain and send a message to the thalamus at the base of the brain which then sends a message to the motor nerves to pull away from the source of the initial pain. http://www.abortionfacts.com/online_books/love_th
        My intention is not be be insensitive to those who have had abortions in the past, but let me tell you about a video I was able to watch of an unborn child being aborted. The pregnancy was about 9 or 10 weeks along. You could visibly see the unborn child pulling away from and resisting the pull of the instrument invading the uterus in order to vacuum the torn pieces of the remaining body. This is very graphic, I know, but these are the facts. There’s a reason your stomach turns at this thought.

        I read that you and your husband do not want children because of financial reasons and your fear of pregnancy and childbirth. You’re right about your right to choose to end the pregnancy. At this point in our justice system you have that right. If having a child in inconvenient for you, I only suggest you have a permanent procedure such as a hysterectomy so that you don’t have use your right to terminate a life you and you husband created out of love.

  8. Dear Lyndsy, I can see why this would be very personal to you since someone told you that you might have been aborted. The fact that someone told you this sounds like you were caught up in some nasty family political quagmire for a while. It was very wrong of them to do so. I don’t know what your parent’s relationship was like at the time of your conception. If your father was abusive, then he was very wrong in his behaviour. If he was thinking about how he and your mother were going to raise you, he might have been thinking about what would be best for his family – that’s not a wrong thing to do.

    However, your inclusion of legal abortions being dangerous to the mother is unfounded and you need to look at the statistics. Anything to do with pregnancy is dangerous to the woman, but a safe abortion in a legal clinic for the right reasons is far less dangerous than an illegal one or by going through with an ectopic pregnancy.

    • Lyndsy Lafenhagen says:

      For the record, no my parents were financially stable, married, had two other children, and had a wonderful marriage. Also, your conclusion about going through family politics or whatnot is also untrue. A distant family member actually told me as a young adult…neither o my parents. I would encourage you to research as well. While yes, there are cases where mother die from complications, you’ll see I was jot referring to those situations. Even so, women have been giving birth for thousands of years. Your mother faught for and gave birth to you in fact. That is natural. What us unnatural are the grusome procedures of abortion which often harm or kill the mother ( and are often covered up by abortion providers)and always kill the unborn child. This should outrage any person who cares about women! Do the research and you’ll be enrages too. As women, let’s fight for one another!

      Also or the record, I watched my sister go thru a horrible miscarriage when I was 14. That’s what got me researching and thinking about this issue…not after I foun out I could have been aborted.

  9. The U.S. Constitution recognizes only those who are “born” as citizens, so that includes women, but not the unborn. Conservative, Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said, “I think when the Constitution says that persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws, I think it clearly means walking-around persons.” The Court has also cited judicial precedent in holding that the fetus is not a “person” as defined by the Fourteenth Amendment.

    The Catholics for Choice organization “believes in a world where everyone has equal access to the full range of reproductive health-care services–including access to safe and legal abortion services and affordable and reliable forms of contraception….We are part of the great majority of the faithful in the Catholic church who disagrees with the dictates of the Vatican on matters related to sex, marriage, family life and motherhood.”

    The cost to enforce a law that prohibits abortion and confers personhood (humans capable of certain kinds of thought, and thus exclude embryos, early fetuses, or adults with certain types of brain damage) to an embryo would be astronomical and impossible to enforce. Doctors would have to report the names of pregnant women to the government. A woman from another country could be allowed to claim American citizenship for her embryo if impregnated while in America or even before. Pregnant women enter America illegally now for their babies to be born here so they will be American citizens.

    If fertilized eggs were given the legal status of a human being as promoted by some, among those who would profit most would be attorneys suing on behalf of fetuses and pregnant women in accident cases, defending or prosecuting doctors who provide health services to women and defending or prosecuting the criminals resulting from more unwanted children. More prisons, social services, etc., would be required. Wrongful life lawsuits would be brought by parents on behalf of their handicapped children with severe abnormalities to pay for their life-long care.

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reported that 3 out of every 100 babies born in the United States have some kind of major birth defect. There are over 3,000 different known birth defects leading to mental or physical disabilities, and they are the leading cause of death in the first year of life.

    As a result of laws made by men, pregnant women are singled out for discrimination. They are dehumanized as merely unfeeling incubators, instead of being recognized as human beings who suffer from the tragedy of about one million fetal deaths each year, according to the National Survey of Family Growth. (“Fetal mortality refers to spontaneous intrauterine death at any time during pregnancy.”)

  10. If this personhood thing happens and I become unwantedly pregnant, I’m going to sue the unborn individual for squatting, failure to pay rent,theft of services, theft of goods, destruction of property, bodily harm, sexual assault, extortion, mental abuse, physical abuse, abuse of a vulnerable adult, battery, and attempted murder. Since pregnancy is literally one of the most dangerous things a woman can do, I think that if the woman doesn’t want to be pregnant, she should be able to sue the individual for the physical harm being caused. If every woman who wants an abortion starts suing the “person” (if this passes), then maybe something will be done. I don’t want to go back to back alleys, prosecutions for miscarriages, forced births, and the rest of all that. Society should be better than that now, and I will do everything I can to keep it that way.

  11. Proponents of Personhood amendments can swear up and down until the cows come home that they won’t be used to prosecute women or ban contraception. But supporters have no control over how the laws will be enforced once in place so their intentions or predictions are meaningless. As others have noted here, women are already being prosecuted for fetal deaths and abortions under so-called fetal protection and “late term” abortion laws currently in effect, which supporters swore up and down wouldn’t be used to target women. When fertilized eggs are given legal human status there will be nothing to stop zealous authority figures from prosecuting miscarriages or outlawing birth control. And they will do just that.

    And I frankly don’t believe that

  12. …sorry, hit post too soon.

    I frankly don’t believe for one second that the fertilized egg personhood movement isn’t after birth control in addition to legal abortion.

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