Redefining When Life Begins: A Post about Personhood USA and Legislative Bills That Could Make the Use of Some Contraceptives Illegal

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

Until last week, I had never heard of an organization called Personhood USA. Then I read a post about it on Think Progress titled Anti-Abortion Groups Push To Outlaw Contraceptives By Redefining Personhood. According to the Think Progress piece, Personhood USA has been quite successful at pushing legislation in a number of states that would “redefine life as beginning at the moment of fertilization…”

Dr. Dan Grossman, an obstetrician/gynecologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said that the medical community has been in agreement that a pregnancy begins “once implantation occurs.” Only about a half of fertilized eggs, however, actually implant into a woman’s uterus and result in a pregnancy. The rest of the fertilized eggs never begin dividing, never implant, or spontaneously abort. In fact, some spontaneous abortions occur so early in a woman’s pregnancy that she may not even be aware that she is pregnant.

 What has been the cause of great concern to some individuals and organizations—including NOW, ACLU, and Planned Parenthood—is that a growing number of lawmakers support the organization’s efforts to “legally define life as the moment a sperm meets an egg.”

Dr. Grossman, who also works for the reproductive rights group Ibis Reproductive Health, says that if Personhood USA achieves its goal, “it could threaten the use of a long list of commonly used contraceptives, including some birth control pills and the intrauterine device.” He added, “This redefinition really could end up reclassifying all of these effective and safe birth control methods as abortifacients, or agents that induce abortions.”

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an attorney with the ACLU, claims that the personhood backers’ intention is the banning of some of the most commonly used forms of birth control—along with banning abortion.

Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA, says that while “he doesn’t think his proposals would interfere with most forms of birth control, he doesn’t deny that some could.” He continued, “Certainly women, my wife included, would want to know if the pills they’re taking would kill a unique human individual. And I think there’s a lot of misinformation about that, or lack of information. And I think this is another benefit of what we’re doing: We’re raising awareness about these issues.”

Kolbi-Molinas says that there could be dire consequences if fertilized eggs are declared to be persons—and if women are legally separated from their pregnancies. The ACLU lawyer provided the example of ectopic pregnancies which implant outside a uterus and can be life-threatening for a woman. She said, “And so it is essential an ectopic pregnancy be terminated as soon as possible. But by giving all fertilized eggs legal rights under the law, that calls into question what kind of methods a doctor can actually use to save a woman’s life in a situation like this.”

 According to Marie Diamond of Think Progress, if “personhood” laws are passed, they “could turn common forms of birth control into the legal equivalent of a homicide.” She claims that legislation supported by anti-abortion groups like Personhood USA is an attempt “to assert government control over women’s bodies.”

Diamond continued: “Contraceptives like the pill and IUDs not only act to prevent fertilization, but, if fertilization does occur, may prevent that fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus. Personhood USA considers this tantamount to abortion, and wants to make it a punishable offense for women to control their own fertility. Worse, because the proposed legislation could make any effort to terminate a pregnancy a criminal act, it could also bar doctors from saving the lives of women with ectopic pregnancies…”

According to Right Wing Watch: “Personhood legislation gives legal rights to zygotes, banning all abortion without exception along with procedures to treat problem pregnancies, certain forms of contraception, and even in-vitro fertilization.”

Personhood amendments were defeated in Colorado in 2008 and 2010. Recently, a Louisiana “personhood” bill was defeated by the State Legislature. Still, Personhood USA claims that bills the organization has introduced are gaining traction across the United States.

A Closing Note: Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA, has been quoted as saying the following: “I think it’s important to note with the term fertilized egg, that’s the same thing as using the N word for an African American. Because it’s a dehumanizing term and it’s not based in science. The term would be a zygote, or an embryo, speaking of a unique individual.”


Anti-Abortion Groups Push To Outlaw Contraceptives By Redefining Personhood (Think Progress)

Abortion Foes Push To Redefine Personhood (NPR)

Personhood Amendment Would Ban In-Vitro Fertilization, Physicians, Families Speak Out (RH Reality Check)

Personhood Bill Flounders In Louisiana (Right Wing Watch)

Mississippi Supreme Court hears arguments regarding personhood amendment (Ballot News)

Pro-choice forces seek to prevent referendum: Mississippi slated to vote on ‘personhood’ (Washington Times)

‘Personhood’ amendment before Mississippi court (Hattiesburg American)

 Slowly but surely, American women are losing the right to choose (The Reid Report)

Amendment 62 Debate: Term ‘Fertilized Egg’ Compared To The N-Word (KRDO)

Personhood USA

54 thoughts on “Redefining When Life Begins: A Post about Personhood USA and Legislative Bills That Could Make the Use of Some Contraceptives Illegal”

  1. Re: Keith Mason, who says, ““Certainly women, my wife included, would want to know if the pills they’re taking would kill a unique human individual. And I think there’s a lot of misinformation about that, or lack of information.

    Yes there certainly is a lot of misinformation out there, Keith, and you are one source of it, because a zygote is NOT a unique human individual, and you are claiming it is. It requires brain activity to be a unique human individual, and zygotes do not have one. So I will be happy to inform your wife or any other woman that the pill she is taking is NOT killing a unique human individual, although there is a non-zero chance that a pregnancy might kill one: Her.

  2. Viagra’s for Daddy,
    Prozacs for Mom,
    I aint wearing panties when I go to the prom…

  3. This movement takes us back to the 50’s and before when contraception was illegal. We know now where the far right wants to take their country back to, on this issue at least. There has been a great deal of debate about Margaret Sanger’s politics and I don’t want to re-ignite here but ghod bless her for the work she did to make safe contraception available to us.

  4. This has always been the anti-abortionist’s next front. It’s unpopular and I would imagine that the vast majority of pro-life voters would not endorse it, although a few like Tootie will tie themselves up in rhetorical knots, trying.. However, once elected on an orthodox anti-abortion plank, I would foresee the anti-abortionists pursuing this agenda and making it difficult to repeal. The supporters of abortion have been fairly inept at successfully fighting the erosion of abortion rights and I don’t know how much faith I’d have in their ability to challenge this nonsense. A much broader based effort is necessary to preserve contraceptive rights and women’s autonomy in managing their own health.

  5. Elaine,
    I love Monty Python! Great link.
    You are not alone in your distaste for the anti-women crowd.

  6. “Certainly women, my wife included, would want to know if the pills they’re taking would kill a unique human individual”

    I was having quite a pleasant day at home, hanging out, while my wife is away. Then I read this Post and my teeth are literally grinding with anger as I write this. I can’t stand these stupid bastards! Let’s cut through all this bullshit and even tooties phony Christianity to get to the heart of the evil and damned by God Anti-Abortion Movement. They make me wish there really was a hell, because if there is tootie and her like will be roasting for eternity, while I’m playing my harp and bored in heaven.

    The Anti-Abortion movement hates women and wants to control them. Adding a movement for contraception banning proves it. They fear women’s sexuality and the free exercise of it. They want women in a subordinate position as stated in Genesis and other patriarchal writings, that seek to reduce the position of women to chattels and the sexual playthings of males who don’t know how to make love, they only know how to feel like they possess.

    These phony pious haters, who will allow government to invade the most personal parts of people’s lives, while they express horror at controlling the rapaciousness of the privileged. I quoted the doctor talking about his wife because I’ll lay high odds he’s lousy in bed and she’s never had an orgasm with him.

    Well I may not have been too coherent but I feel better. Nothing gets me angrier than the efforts of fundamentalist, woman hating fools, trying to stifle the reality that women are not only mens equals, but their superiors in most cases. Tootie is but the exception that proves the rule and even she is probably much superior to her mate.

  7. @Elaine: It isn’t just daughters they want to control–it’s wives…it’s all women.

    True enough. But women are not immune from the urge to exert control over their daughters sexual lives, and in essence control the parentage of their grandchildren in order to meet their own fantasies or definitions of ‘success.’

    For example, many a mother insists her daughter remain a virgin in order to be ‘more valuable’ and attract a ‘better husband.’ That whole attitude stinks of treating her daughter, and her daughter’s virginity, as property to be traded. I put ‘better husband’ in quotes because I do not think a man that buys into this same value system would actually be a better man, I think that is a flaw.

    But I do think it is obvious that throughout history, it has been primarily men that have sought to essentially enslave women in general, for many reasons.

  8. Well then, evangelically and paternalistically speaking within the inviolable context of god(‘s)-awful settled law, I guess that if every sperm is sacred then every ovum must each be an unholy, violable, scrambled egg.

  9. A friend once expressed great relief at finally getting his masters degree. “Relief” seemed an odd response, so I asked him about it.

    He said his parents did not consider a being to be human life until it had a masters, and because he was nearly thirty and had not gotten his masters they were considering whether to keep him. Now that he had his masters, he was safe: his parents accepted him as human and would not have him terminated.

  10. Tony C.,

    “I believe the root psychology of this lies in the control of offspring…”

    It isn’t just daughters they want to control–it’s wives…it’s all women.

  11. @frank: the same people who are so concerned about the unborn regularly show they don’t give a shit about the born.

    True dat.

    They particularly like the punitive affect motherhood has on the unmarried or promiscuous.

    I believe the root psychology of this lies in the control of offspring; for thousands of years in hundreds of cultures parents have felt like they “own” their children and have some natural right to control their lives, even as adults, and in particular to monopolize the sexual activity of their female offspring. Not in the man-on-daughter sense, but in the sense of having the right to decide who she will have sex with, which is ultimately the right to choose the father of their grandchildren.

    In this sense the right-to-lifers are just Orwellian, they do not believe even their own adult daughters have the right to their own lives or sexual decisions. They want to own them, and they want abortion and contraception to be illegal because they think (correctly) that these options make it easier for their daughters to defy them and do whatever they want. It is true, the advent of “the pill” in 1960 had a lot to do with the rise in promiscuity among the early baby boomers from 1965-on. Those hippies and flower children; remember? I believe after the initial euphoria of freedom we call calmed down a bit, but abortion and reliable inexpensive birth control still severely reduces the control that parents have over their daughters, and I think that is why parents that think they own their daughter’s reproductive system hate them.

  12. And there is another $5 to Planned Parenthood from Tootie!
    the donate button is on the top right.

    The ‘life’ movement has never been about protecting children, the same people who are so concerned about the unborn regularly show they don’t give a shit about the born. It really is a forced birth movement. This becomes more obvious as they fight to prevent education and contraception that would eliminate many abortions and unwanted babies.

    They particularly like the punitive affect motherhood has on the unmarried or promiscuous. Even going so far as to indicate that rape victims really had it coming and should have to live with any child conceived through rape.

  13. “Abortion is a state issue and not a Federal one as there is nothing in the Constitution which suggests that the Federal government has any power over the matter.”

    Abortion is a personal issue period.

    The entire sanctity of human life thing is nothing more than human hubris and a chauvinistic specie-ism. There is no rational argument for it, it is simply an emotional attachment . That’s what makes these misogynist personhood laws so ridiculous and simultaneously destructive.

  14. A list of pending personhood bills is included in the following post on the Maddow blog. Links to the bills are provided.

    ‘Personhood’ movement somehow excludes you
    By Laura Conaway – Thu Jun 9, 2011

    Alabama’s S.B. 301 (pdf) (just say ok to that pop-up)

    Other personhood legislation:

    Montana’s House Bill 409 (pdf)
    North Dakota’s House Bill 1450 (pdf)
    Oklahoma’s House Bill 1571
    Virginia’s House Bill 1440
    Iowa House File 153
    Georgia’s Senate Resolution 153
    Texas House Bill 1109
    Mississippi Initiative Measure No. 26

  15. Personhood USA urges abortion foes to ‘not settle for the protection of just some’
    By Virginia Chamlee | 06.07.11
    The Florida Independent

    Personhood USA, the group responsible for unveiling initiatives aimed at undoing abortion and some types of birth control acrosss the country, released a new video yesterday. The clip — titled “Pro-Life? What Is It?” — urges listeners to “get off the couch” and “bring the church to the streets, bring the streets to the polling place and bring healing to our world.”

  16. Some weeks ago I read an article about this movement and the person interviewed refereed to contraception as “silent abortion”. I wonder of this (insane) movement is the extreme fringe (of the extreme fringe of) the anti-abortion movement or if it’s a distinct movement all to its crazy self? I have checked using various search parameters but don’t find any info that ties this group financially to existing anti-abortion groups. Its a 501©(4) Charin ministry so it’s kind of difficult to track down where the money comes from. According to their website they do want your donations though.

    This kind of legislation also could redefine the way the murder of doctors or clinic/hospital workers that perform abortions would be looked at as this article about Idaho’s proposed legislation illustrates:

    “Lynda Waddington of The Iowa Independent reports:

    Currently, abortion is also settled law in Iowa. But House File 153, sponsored by 28 Republicans, challenges it. Under that bill, the state would be mandated to recognize and protect “life” from the moment of conception until “natural death” with the full force of the law and state and federal constitutions. Essentially, the bill declares that from the moment a male sperm and a female ovum join to create a fertilized egg that a person exists.

    House File 7, which has been sponsored by 29 GOP House members, seeks to expand state law regarding use of reasonable force, including deadly force. Current state laws provide that citizens are not required to retreat from their dwelling or place of business if they or a third party are threatened. The proposal would significantly expand this to state that citizens are not required to retreat from “any place at which the person has a right to be present,” and that in such instances, the citizen has the right to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect himself or a third party from serious injury or death or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

    Todd Miler, a criminal defense attorney in Des Moines, agrees that these two bills, when combined, create a situation that could lead to someone claiming the killing of an abortion provider or a family planning worker was reasonable use of deadly force.

    “My first thought when I looked at House File 153 was that it was a first step — something that had been put out there as a first step toward a larger political goal. But, when you place it next to House File 7 the potential ramifications are startling,” Miler said.

    “[House File 7] explicitly provides that people have a right to defend themselves or others at any place they are legally allowed to be. That would definitely include sidewalks or streets outside of clinics. They could attempt to kill a physician or a clinic worker, and if they did so while believing they were protecting another person, which would be defined under House File 153 as a fetus, then, under this law, they would have the right to do that.” ….

    “It also shows that when you try to take the law where the legislature is taking it, you can really get into what I call a bog of inconsistencies,” Nagle said. “On one hand, you are allowed to shoot someone if you feel threatened, but, on the other hand, if you are going to die from a medical condition — pregnancy — you aren’t allowed to defend yourself against that eventuality.

    “It really feeds into that old adage that Republicans value children from the moment of conception until birth.”

    When laws like this are passed, he said, what happened in “Kansas will become the norm.” ”

  17. That’s right. Bush would only appoint those with a pro-life agenda to the FDA just like the Supreme Court.

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