Thursday 26 March 2009
(Photo: The Uniter / University of Winnipeg)
Personhood USA apparently sees itself as the new, hipper, more effective incarnation of the anti-abortion movement. Personhood USA hopes that by establishing the "pre-born, as legal persons with protection under the law" it will end the "injustice of abortion." Its attempt to do this last November through a "personhood" ballot measure in Colorado's failed miserably. Nevertheless, Personhood USA, is committed to "working tirelessly to establish personhood in every State."
What supporters of this approach don't mention is that if the unborn have legal personhood rights, pregnant women won't. There is really no way around this. As National Advocates for Pregnant Women's video demonstrates, if successful, this strategy will mean that upon become pregnant, women will lose their civil and human rights.
As Angela Carder learned it is not just life vs. choice - but life vs. life. Angela Carder, 25 weeks pregnant, was critically ill. More than anything, she wanted to live. A court, however, ordered cesarean surgery based on claims of fetal rights. The surgery was performed over her objections as well as those of her physicians and family. Angela Carder died two days later - the cesarean surgery listed as a contributing factor. The fetus was born alive but died within two hours.
Personhood USA doesn't address how personhood laws will affect women like Ms. Carder and others who have no intention of ending a pregnancy. Perhaps this is why legislators in at least five states have introduced bills that carry their message and several more are working on ballot measures like the one in Colorado.
In fact, North Dakota's house recently passed a personhood bill that would require the state to interpret all of the state's laws to apply to "any organism with the genome of homo sapiens" including a fertilized egg. In addition to inviting such facetious Onion-like headlines as "North Dakota House Passes 'Homo' Rights Law, this bill creates the basis for policing all pregnant women.
Upon becoming pregnant, women would lose their right to medical privacy, since under North Dakota law doctors are required to report to child welfare authorities whenever they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child (an organism) is abused or neglected. Accordingly, if this bill passes, pregnant women in North Dakota who are obese, have diabetes, or smoke should probably report directly to child welfare authorities - or perhaps some new agency, such as the Department of Organism Protection.
Indeed, a recent horrifying incident in California could become commonplace in North Dakota. A pregnant woman in California experienced a miscarriage at one-month gestation. Her doctor advised her to preserve the embryonic tissue in the freezer until she and her husband decided whether to request genetic testing or to take the remains to a mortuary. When they decided against testing, they called a mortuary. They were asked for a death certificate and were directed to the County Coroner to obtain one. The Coroner instructed them to call the police. When they complied, the police heard the words "human remains" and responded by descending on their home, entering without a warrant, and searching for what they assumed was the evidence of a crime against a person.
While the California case reflects miscommunication, families that experience miscarriages would have to expect such intrusions in states that pass personhood laws. Similarly pregnant women who miss prenatal care appointments, don't take prenatal vitamins, or drink any amount of alcohol could be deemed abusive under criminal child [organism] abuse and endangerment laws. Personhood laws would also provide the basis for prosecuting women for murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide if they suffered miscarriages or stillbirths.
In fact states with these laws would look a lot like South Carolina, the only state that has, by judicial fiat, effectively adopted a personhood law. More than 90 pregnant women and new mothers have been arrested there based on fetal personhood claims. Recently, a pregnant woman in South Carolina fell from a 5th floor window. The press reported this incident as a suicide attempt. She survived but suffered a stillbirth as a result of the fall. Last month she was arrested on charges of homicide by child abuse and is still being held without bail.
Personhood USA asserts that "each and every human being must be respected and protected from fertilization until natural death." Their legislation, however, would have the effect of excluding pregnant women from this protection. People committed to a true culture of life need to oppose their legislative proposals, supporting instead ones that include the interests of the women who give that life.