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24 February 2014

USA: Beyond abortion: why the personhood movement implicates reproductive choice

From American Journal of Law and Medicine.

The author notes that in 2008, an amendment was proposed to the Colorado Constitution that sought to attach the rights and protections associated with legal “personhood” to any human being from the moment of fertilization. Although the initiative was defeated, it sparked a nation-wide Personhood Movement that has spurred similar efforts at the federal level and in over a dozen states. Personhood advocates choose terms like “fertilization,” or phrases such as “human being at any stage of development, ” to identify the “person”-defining moment in the reproductive process, and these designations have profound implications for reproductive choice.

Proponents are outspoken in their desire to outlaw abortion, but they are less transparent about their intent with respect to other aspects of reproductive choice, such as contraception and infertility treatments. This paper describes the background of the Personhood Movement and its attempt to achieve legal protection of the preborn from the earliest moments of biological development. Following the late 2011 failure of the personhood measure in Mississippi, the language used within the Movement was dramatically changed in an attempt to address some of the concerns raised regarding implications for reproductive choice.

Putting abortion to one side, this paper identifies why the personhood framework that is contemplated by the proposed changes does not eliminate the potential for restrictions on contraception and in vitro fertilization (IVF) that put the lives of these newly recognized persons at risk; nor should it if proponents intend to remain consistent with their position. The paper goes on to suggest what those restrictions might look like based on recent efforts being proposed at the state level and frameworks that have already been adopted in other countries.

Bioethics & Health Law Center, Mississippi College School of Law, USA.

Beyond abortion: why the personhood movement implicates reproductive choice. Will JF. American Journal of Law and Medicine. 2013;39(4):573-616.

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