Thursday, April 17, 2014


Yesterday, I read a really disturbing piece by Greg Sargent in which he discusses the GOP candidates for Senate, and how many of them support the notion of "fetal personhood":
The issue isn’t being discussed at all by Washington prognosticators these days. But you can bet that some of the most hard fought Senate races this fall will feature big fights over “Personhood” measures, which have declared that full human rights begin at the moment of fertilization.
. . . 
This has already appeared in the Colorado Senate race, but it will likely become an issue in other races, too. In Colorado, the Republican candidate, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, renounced his previous support for Personhood after entering the contest, admitting it would “restrict contraception,” but Dems seized on the reversal to argue that Gardner only supports protecting women’s health when politically necessary.
Gardner co-sponsored the “Life at Conception Act,” which provides for Constitutional protection of the right to life of each “preborn human person,” defined as existing from the “moment of fertilization.” The Pro-Life Alliance describes this as a “Personhood” measure. 
Other GOP Senate candidates are on record in similar fashion. Co-sponsors of the Life at Conception Act include Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rep. Steve Daines of Montana, both expected general election candidates. Meanwhile, according to McClatchy, three leading GOP Senate candidates in North Carolina — Thom Tillis, Greg Brannon, and Mark Harris — all favor a “Personhood” constitutional amendment that would “grant legal protections to a fertilized human egg and possibly ban some forms of birth control.” 
I am astounded that we have moved so far rightward/slipped so far backward that one of our two major political parties has adopted as a fundamental principle the idea that pregnant women are not to be considered adult persons. Because, make no mistake, if a fertilized egg is fully invested with the rights of personhood, a pregnant woman must necessarily lose her rights as a full-fledged person, because she loses the right of bodily autonomy. We do not compel people to donate their organs (or even perform CPR) to save someone who would otherwise die, but "personhood" laws would force a woman to lend out her body to keep a zygote alive, even if it is against her will.

We already restrict the rights of pregnant women by criminalizing their conduct if they cannot overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol while pregnant. If a fertilized egg is officially classified as a person with equal rights to life as the woman carrying it, what else will be criminalized? If you relax in a hot tub against a doctor's recommendation and miscarry will you be arrested?  Or ride a horse? Or go jogging? Or have a glass of wine at a restaurant where there are "witnesses" to your conduct? Considering the fact that up to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, it seems likely that pregnant women will automatically become a suspected class, to be watched, supervised, and prosecuted if something happens to the "person" they are carrying. The Handmaid's Tale as instruction manual.

It will be interesting to see what kind of push-back these laws get from the medical community and the large numbers of people who access fertility treatments on one hand, and contraception on the other. If every fertilized egg is suddenly granted the rights of personhood, in vitro fertilization must be outlawed. So too hormonal birth control, as any eggs that do accidentally get fertilized won't be able to properly implant and develop in the altered hormonal environment. There go another couple of chunks of female autonomy.

I know to many people, the vision I'm talking about here seems far fetched. I mean didn't the voters of Mississippi reject a "personhood" amendment just a few years ago? Well, the overwhelming number of voters (and even a majority of NRA members) support greater regulation of gun sales and ownership, and yet, since the tragedy at Newtown, changes in gun laws have overwhelmingly been in the direction of loosening them, not tightening them. It only takes a small number of fanatics to impose their will, and we are seeing anti-feminist fanatics ascending to positions of power in our government. Birth control access is under attack; access to abortion is being dealt a death by a thousand cuts; The GOP opposes equal-pay laws; sexual assault is regarded as a minor problem at worst; and fetal personhood is back on the agenda. Reactionary forces are on the march, and I for one am scared to death thinking about where they want to take us.

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