Legislation that applies the legal definition of a “person” from the moment of fertilization has been introduced in Oklahoma this year. PersonhoodUSA, an anti-abortion group out of Colorado, promotes these measures in order to outlaw abortion; but voters in other states have already rejected such laws as ambiguous and leading to unintended consequences for families.
HJR 1067 is a ballot initiative that would go before Oklahoma voters in November 2012. It defines a “person” as “every human being from the beginning of biological development of that human being.” Birth control methods and in vitro fertilization (IVF) that “kill a person” are affected. This initiative specifically prohibits termination of pregnancy in case of rape and incest.
SB1433, “The Personhood Act,” expands the definition of an “unborn child” to the moment of conception until birth. This is a bill that could become law without a vote of the people and result in the same restrictions as above.
Personhood legislation has been opposed and soundly defeated in Colorado and even in conservative Mississippi. It has failed to even get on the ballot in other states. Opposition to personhood legislation is also voiced by many anti-abortion organizations. National Right to Life and the Roman Catholic Bishops, have refused to promote it because of their concern that it would undermine their ultimate challenge to Roe v. Wade.
The intended and unintended consequences of such personhood bills are potentially destructive for the following reasons:
- They outlaw the use of certain contraceptives. Birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUD’s), and the morning after pill work by preventing fertilization from occurring but, theoretically, may occasionally prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. Because personhood groups believe that every stage of development is legally a person from the moment of fertilization, these methods of birth control would not be allowed.
- They severely limit the practice of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). For example, any embryos, including defective ones, may not be discarded. Lack of growth of embryos in the laboratory may be considered murder. Therefore, personhood legislation is inherently anti-reproduction, and anti-family.
- Personhood proposals allow for government interference in very personal healthcare decisions for women and their families. If fully enforced, they would lead to severe legal penalties for intentionally harming a zygote, embryo, or fetus, even in the event of life-threatening pregnancy complications. It would outlaw all elective abortions, forcing pregnant women to give birth against their own judgment, and it would encourage dangerous illegal abortions.
- No exceptions are made for rape and incest.
- They create new definitions that clearly deviate from usual and customary definitions or are just incorrect. For example, the definitions of “Human Being”, “Spontaneous miscarriage”, and “Child” in the currently proposed ballot initiative are expanded or are perverse versions of accepted dictionary or medical definitions.
- Pregnant women will become a separate class, less protected by law than men or non-pregnant women. Government officials might be obliged, pressured, or inspired to investigate or prosecute any miscarriage deemed suspicious. A woman suspected of causing a miscarriage could be subject to criminal prosecution, as could others suspected of helping her.
- They will have absurd unintended consequences. The unborn, including embryos in frozen storage, now “persons,” might be counted in each 10-year census. Will such “children” be allowed as tax exemptions? If the biological parents of a frozen embryo die, will the embryo have full rights of inheritance and thereby reduce the share to any born children?