Why I Oppose Personhood

Despite the resounding defeat of the Republicans in the last election-due in part to their stance on women’s health issues-there has been talk of personhood bills again. For those who don’t know, personhood amendments seek to define the beginning of life.  The goal, I am assuming, is to find a way around Roe v. Wade to make abortion illegal…despite the fact that the court has continuously upheld the Roe decision and have repeatedly refused to rehear the case. In 2011 voters in Mississippi shot down such an amendment to their constitution by a whopping 58% and in 2012 the Oklahoma Supreme Court deemed such legislation unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has refused to hear challenges to the Oklahoma ruling. Voters have overwhelmingly rejected personhood legislation. That has not stopped the pro-life movement though.

HR 23, The Sanctity of Life Act, was brought forth last month from Rep. Broun of Georgia and sponsored once again by Rep. Ryan of Wisconsin.  In 2011, Reps. Broun and Ryan presented this bill before the House with then Rep. Akin of Missouri (yeah, that one…legitimate rape guy).  The bill claims the Constitution provides the right to life (it doesn’t but more on that later) and as such all human life is protected by the Constitution.  It also stipulates that life begins at the moment of fertilization when it is a single cell.  Furthermore, Mississippi Rep. Arnold introduced to the state House HB 819, The Protection of the Human Person Act.  This gem of legislation not only defines life beginning at fertilization but also restricts IVF treatment and expressly forbids—wait for it—human-animal hybrids.  Yes, you read that right.  You can’t make this stuff up.

There are several problems with this type of legislation, aside from the fact that voters don’t want it.  First, there is an inherent problem with the idea that life begins at fertilization. Embryos will ‘live’ outside of the human body but only in stasis; they cannot grow. Let us do some simple science here first.  Basic Human Reproduction 101: egg and sperm meet and form a single cell, this is called a zygote.  It takes 24 hours before the first split occurs.  The zygote then begins to divide rapidly. Around day 14, implantation occurs and you have an embryo. It is at this point the FDA and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists define the beginning of a pregnancy. In fact, if a zygote does not implant then it will not survive. It is estimated that 60% of all conceptions fail to implant though there is no way to know how many zygotes are formed and as such how can we even think to regulate it.

If a single celled organism has all the rights of a human being (when human beings don’t even have the rights of human beings) then is a woman who miscarries guilty of involuntary manslaughter? Dozens of pharmaceuticals (not just birth control either) could be termed illegal because of their effect on said zygotes along with IVF treatments. Not to mention it would make abortion illegal as well. Except, SCOTUS ruled on that…40 years ago (Roe v. Wade)…the proposed bills are unconstitutional…and have been ruled as such by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. SCOTUS refused to hear the argument, effectively upholding the Oklahoma ruling. Voters in Mississippi, a fairly conservative state, shot down a personhood amendment. Yet, Mr. Broun, Mr. Ryan, Mr. Arnold, and other sponsors—by proposing such bills—would like to ignore the will of the American people (the majority of which do not support personhood amendments—59% of Americans support a woman’s right to choose) and the rulings of the courts to further their own agenda.

I think if this were being done by the left, say trying to pass an amendment altering or eliminating the second amendment, the right would be up in arms. Just look at how angry they become when you start talking about background checks.  Or, heaven forbid, an assault weapon ban.  So, it is OK to go against the will of the people to eliminate what SCOTUS says is a constitutional right for something they dislike (abortion) but if it is something they like (guns) it’s called tyranny.  A bit of pot and kettle going on there, don’t you think? Not to mention the fact that Congress does not have the power to reverse a Supreme Court decision.

Will of the people and legal precedent aside, what the movement wants is for THEIR FAITH to be the definition for all life…something that is completely against the first amendment. Quick question…does every single celled zygote have a soul? If so there are a lot of souls in heaven. Does it matter if the zygote is Jewish? If a personhood amendment passed and a woman had a miscarriage after a car accident, say she slid on the ice into a ditch, could she be charged with manslaughter? If my embryo is a person can I claim it on my taxes? You want a slippery slope debate, this is where to have it.

Don’t believe it possible? That it is just a hypothetical? Consider this, a woman in Indiana attempted suicide. A week later she gave birth to a premature baby, who died 4 days later.  She is now being tried for murder. A 15 year old in Mississippi gave birth to a stillborn baby.  She had a past history of cocaine use.  She is being tried for murder though there is no evidence cocaine caused the stillbirth.  A study identified at least 413 cases of women being treated as criminals directly related to their pregnancies.  All of this and more while Roe stands, abortion is legal, and there is no definition of life written into the Constitution. What makes anyone think that such personhood amendments won’t just make this problem worse?

Why is it that the belief that life begins at conception is the only right one and therefore the one on which our laws should be based? The problem with the religious right is that they seem to conveniently forget that we have freedom of religion in this country…meaning you cannot force your religion onto others…or that other opinions out there exist and are just as valid. The problem with religious conservatives is they think they are right and everyone else is just plain wrong.

I know that my opinion is just that, my opinion. I know people disagree with me and that is okay…I disagree with them. I am not trying to legislate my opinion.  If you want abortion to be illegal then get the courts to review Roe v. Wade. As long as the courts uphold that decision I will support with my last breath a woman’s right to choose.

A zygote is not a thinking, feeling conscious human being. A zygote is nothing more than a cell formed by the union of two gametes (i.e. egg and sperm) SCOTUS ruled Roe based on the 14th amendment. The ruling was this: The majority opinion allowed states to protect “fetal life after viability” even though a fetus is not “a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment”. Get that, the court ruled that a fetus is not a person in the context of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, a fetus is not a citizen of the United States and receives none of the protections mentioned within. If you want to argue Roe fine, but the courts have continued to uphold that ruling and as such it continues to stand.

For example, Planned Parenthood v. Casey in ’92 stated: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” In short, the foundation of freedom is being able to define the meaning of life.  As such, the federal government cannot define life without forsaking liberty. The only place in the Constitution that mentions “life” is in the 5th and 14th amendments and all mention something called “due process.” Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that you have the right to life. All it says is that you cannot be deprived of life without due process. Maybe it is just me, but I think that SCOTUS ruling on the decision qualifies as due process.  Not to mention the fact if the Constitution guaranteed the right to life it would make capital punishment pretty tricky.

I always hear the argument, “Other countries made abortion illegal and they don’t have any problems.”  Yes, and let us take a look at those countries that have made abortion illegal shall we (though even the majority of those have life of the mother exceptions): Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Central African Republic of Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Myanmar (Burma), Mexico, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Vatican City, Venezuela, and Yemen.

Yes, perfectly normal lives in totalitarian regimes and theocracies. Because I want the US to base citizens’ rights on what works in Myanmar (Burma), the Congo, Afghanistan and Iran. Is there irony there that most of these countries also have huge human rights violations? Ireland is what some will point to now. Fine, let us look at Ireland. Ireland’s abortion law dates back to 1861. Know what else was a law back then? People of color counted as 3/5 human. Forgive me if I don’t put much credence into what they considered human back then. Furthermore, the issue is a contentious one in Ireland as well. Due to recent events, Ireland may soon change their laws…and the majority of the people support it.

We live in a democratic republic. That does not mean you always get what you want. You can voice your opinion through speech, through vote…but that does not mean you are going to get your way.  Majority rules and the majority of people favor legal abortion. The majority of people do not favor personhood and such amendments have been ruled unconstitutional at the state level and arguments have been refused to be heard at the federal level. One can only assume that SCOTUS refusing to hear the case means that a) they standby the Roe v. Wade decision and b) they agree with the lower court’s rulings. Truth is, even if the bill passed, it couldn’t do anything.  It would take an amendment to alter the Constitution, to define life, and that will not happen. First of all, doing so would require ⅔ vote in both the House and Senate to propose the amendment. Second, to ratify said amendment requires ¾ of all state legislatures. So far 330 amendments overturning Roe have been up for proposal; only one got to the floor for a vote…it was rejected by the Senate. So other than pandering and a giant waste of time and taxpayers money what is the purpose of this bill? It is blatantly unconstitutional and we have many, more important things to do than try for an overreach of Congressional power.

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