“Personhood” Amendments: Ambiguous and broadly-worded citizen-led measures that aim to legally define human life as starting at “the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
The measures, if passed in any State, will have far-reaching, dire consequences for the cause of women’s rights, a woman’s personal autonomy, her right to make personal decisions about her healthcare, and the legal system in general.
These measures, being proposed in most states in one form or another, would even restrict certain birth control methods, IVF (in-vitro fertilization) treatment, and would ban all abortions, under all circumstances.
Love and Death: Terminal Pregnancies
You find the love of your life. You’ve found the person you want to share everything in your life with until the end of time. You see your unborn children in each other’s eyes. The love you share leads you to the desire to have a baby, a combination of both of you, a baby who is proof of what you feel for one another, the ultimate gift to one another. And so you, the woman, become pregnant.
It’s a magical time. The realization of what will happen in mere months is exhilarating. You and your adoring husband are anxious, maybe even scared, but you’ve never been happier. You tell friends and family the exciting news. Life is good.
Six weeks into the pregnancy you begin spotting blood. Not a lot, but enough to cause concern and you call your doctor. “It’s very common”, the OB says, “Keep an eye on it and let me know if it gets worse. Don’t worry”. By seven weeks into the pregnancy you are cramping, having substantial pain. More bleeding. Something clearly is not right. You make an appointment with your doctor for the next day. You are scared, you do not want to lose this most wanted of babies.
Before you can make it to your appointment the next day the pain in your abdomen intensifies. You now have pain in your shoulders, throughout your back, your belly is distended. You are light-headed. You’re grocery shopping and lean onto a counter to hold yourself up. You double over and try to stay conscious, but fail. You pass out.
You come-to in the emergency room on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over your face. Your husband is there now. You do not really know what is going on, but know you will lose this baby. Your husband tells you with tears in his eyes that you have an ectopic, “tubal”, pregnancy, that your baby developed in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus, that it grew normally in an abnormal place, and now was big enough to start rupturing your tube and you are bleeding internally. He tells you as he strokes your hair that if you do not have surgery right now…right now… to remove the fetus – which is still alive – you will die. You will die.
Under a passed “personhood” measure it would be a criminal act to remove a still living fetus from this woman’s fallopian tube, despite the fact that it cannot survive much beyond its current gestational age. Despite the fact that allowing the fetus to remain inside of the mother…will kill her, and quickly, unless surgical intervention happens immediately to terminate the fetus’ life and repair the damage it has inadvertently caused.
- Will any doctor perform this surgery knowing it could implicate them for murder of the fetus?
- If a physician does perform this surgery to save the life of the mother, what are the legal implications for the doctor? Murder charges?
- If a doctor is willing to perform this surgery to save the life of the mother upon her or her husband’s request, what are the legal implications for that mother/father? Murder charges?
- If this type of measure passes, it virtually ensures that the life of any woman confronted with an ectopic pregnancy will either die as her doctor and her loved ones stand and watch, or risk being charged with a criminal act in the “murder” of her fetus in an effort to save her own life.
- Ectopic pregnancy is currently the leading cause of pregnancy-related death during the first trimester in the United States, accounting for 9% of all pregnancy-related deaths. In addition to the immediate morbidity caused by ectopic pregnancy, the woman’s future ability to reproduce may be adversely affected as well.
Your beautiful, baby girl…the literal light of your life since her birth, is going away to college. You can’t believe time has passed so quickly. How can it be? You’re so proud of her. She is everything you’d hoped she would be: beautiful, intelligent, caring, courageous, determined. You have such profound love for her, and the promise of an infinitely bright future for her causes tears to well up in your eyes as you wave goodbye to each other and she begins her adult life. You are worried for her safety, of course. There are bad people in the world. You’ve seen them and dealt with them, but she’s only heard of them. You’re her father and you’ve tried to teach her well, to give her all that she needs to make good choices. Now all you can do is trust that with luck and her intrinsic values firmly in place she will flourish.
Months later you receive a call from the college campus police in the middle of the night. It’s your worst fear come to light. As you and your wife sit up in bed you audibly pray that she is still alive. She is. She’s alive. But she’s been raped.
You drive the few hours to the hospital in her college town, hearts screaming all the way. Screaming for what she has just endured. It is impossible to comprehend the violation of your daughter that has taken place. Anger seethes from both of you between wrenching sobs.
You finally arrive. You run through the hospital corridors until you reach your daughter’s room. She is there, lying on a bed in a hospital robe. She is motionless until she sees both of you, and then she silently begins crying and reaches for you.
She is too embarrassed and in shock to recount for you what happened, so the police officer does it for you: It was a fairly common scenario, the officer said. She had been to a party with some newly made friends. It was a fun night. She met a guy, and they talked for a long time. She was drinking, right along with everyone else. She was drunk, but did not black out or pass out. She liked this guy, and he seemed to like her. He asked her to leave with him so they could go someplace and be alone to talk in private. She felt fine about this, because this guy was a friend of one of her new friends…she trusted him because of this. So she said yes.
He took her to his dorm room. She did not feel threatened. Yet. They kissed some, and then she told him she needed to leave but hoped he would call her soon. He said he didn’t want her to leave, that she should stay. She smiled and said no. He kissed her and asked her again to stay. She smiled and said no, again. He then became aggressive, holding her down on the couch, telling her how much he liked her, kissing her. She was scared now, and tried pushing him off telling him no, but she was no physical match for him.
He did not listen. He forcibly laid on top of her, kissing her and covering her mouth so she couldn’t scream for help. He pulled her pants off, and raped her.
Under a passed “personhood” measure it would be a criminal act for your daughter to take RU486 (mifepristone + a prostaglandin 48 hours later), the so-called “abortion pill” or “morning after pill” – should she become pregnant as a result of her rape. These drugs are no picnic. In extremely simple terms if it works correctly, these pills taken before 9 weeks of gestation, block the production of progesterone, and progesterone is needed to keep a pregnancy viable. In most cases, it causes moderate to severe cramping and the eventual expulsion of all products of conception within several hours to a few days. Bleeding can last from 8-10 days. Because this measure deems a fertilized egg a “person” under the law, with all the rights and protections of the mother herself, this drug would not be an option to her to terminate a pregnancy, even before a pregnancy were medically detectable…which is roughly at around two-weeks post-conception.
Under this “personhood” measure, your daughter, should she become pregnant from this non-consensual violation, from this rape, would be forced to carry the baby to term. That would be her only legal option.
IVF: “Test-Tube” Babies
You are a woman who has met the man of your dreams. He is wonderful in every way, except maybe a few ways, and you can overlook those things because in a very short amount of time you come to realize you cannot live without him. And as destiny would have it, he feels the same way about you. You’re in love with each other, spend every waking minute with each other, tell each other your hopes and dreams and without even needing to say it out loud, you know you’re going to get married and spend the rest of your lives together. He asks you to marry him on bended knee…like something out of a fairy tale, and you can’t say yes fast enough. You’re in love, and you marry each other. You’re in love, and soon after you decide that you want to have a baby.
You’re so eager to begin this process because, well, making babies is a lot of fun. You’re in love and so the making-the-baby part comes easily to you, naturally…and often. It is wonderful and romantic and exciting…because you’ll be pregnant soon with a baby that is the proof of the love the two of you share.
Only now, slam on the breaks…hard...until you come to a screeching, grinding halt with the smoke of burned rubber all around you, choking you.
Because for the two of you this will not work. Weeks and months and months go by…a year, more than a year… and you are not pregnant. Something is very wrong. The way nature intended for you to become pregnant is not working.
Kill the romantic music. Kill the scented candles enhancing the mood. Just…stop.
Cue instead stirrups, and speculums and blood tests and ultrasounds and more blood tests and questions about the most intimate aspects of your life, and mood/body-altering injectable drugs, and painful testing and shame and feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, and timed intercourse (down to the hour) or doctor ordered abstinence, and surgeries and procedures…and if at the end of that you are still not pregnant, take a very deep breath and start it all…over…again…next month.
This is ART: Assisted Reproductive Technology. But most people lump all ART into the more recognizable acronym, IVF: In-Vitro Fertilization.
This topic is intensely personal for me. I had eight miscarriages in six years. I went through three IVF procedures to achieve two of those pregnancies, both of which ended in missed abortions – otherwise known as miscarriages. (I will not go in-depth into my personal situation here because I write about it in some detail in this post regarding why I’m pro-choice.)
In short, IVF procedures begin with the woman giving herself injectable hormones to stimulate her ovaries to produce multiple mature eggs from each of them. During normal, unaided ovulation a woman produces one mature egg from one ovary. Sometimes one from each ovary, which can result in twins… rarely three or four or more. With IVF and injectable hormones, a woman can produce 5, 6, 10, 15, 20 mature eggs in a single cycle.
When the RE (Reproductive Endocrinologist) determines that the majority of the eggs are fully matured, you’re scheduled for egg retrieval. You are put-under, and all the mature eggs are surgically removed. The eggs are immediately put into petri-dishes (not test-tubes), and the man’s sperm are added to the mix so that fertilization can take place. For the next several days technicians monitor the progress of fertilization.
Let’s say in our couple above, 15 eggs are retrieved from the woman but only 10 fertilize. They will now monitor those fertilized eggs for quality and they are “graded” on their development.
There is a fairly standard rate at which cells divide in fertilized eggs. By Day 3, the average number of cells in the embryo is 8. 8 cells. The first report the woman will get is usually on Day 3 post egg retrieval/fertilization, and most transfers of the embryo back into the uterus happen on Day 3, sometimes Day 5 (by Day 5 they are now called blastocysts with too many individual cells to count…trying not to get too technical here), but usually on Day 3.
All the while the woman must continue injecting hormones into her body to keep her uterus receptive for implantation of the embryos. It is an arduous, painful, and emotionally taxing process.
So let’s say of the 10 embryos which fertilized, only 4 were graded as developing very well and are the appropriate number of cells for their maturation. It is now go-time, and at a moment’s notice. Depending on the age of the woman and a host of other very personal factors, the woman must decide upon the number of embryos to be transferred back into her uterus for hopeful implantation and a successful pregnancy.
The goal is NOT an Octo-Mom situation. The goal is never multiples. The goal is always to have one successful implantation with a live, singleton birth. But again depending on age (which aids in determining the overall quality of her eggs to begin with) and the visual quality of the embryos, it is sometimes decided that multiple embryos be transferred to the uterus because: usually not all embryos implant. The idea being that of the four good-quality embryos, you’re often very, very lucky if just one “takes”. Sometimes, however, all of them do (Hello, Octo-Mom! Another discussion for another day).
However in this scenario, let’s assume the woman decides only two embryos should be transferred to avoid the very precarious scenario of high-order multiples (triplets or more), with the hope that at least one of them implants and pregnancy ensues.
Now stay with me here… she will transfer the 2 high-quality embryos to her uterus, has 2 other high-quality embryos which she is not transferring, and 6 poorer-quality embryos which will not be transferred at all. That leaves a total of 8 embryos with no uterus to call home.
These are human embryos. Most people do not dispute this fact. They aren’t goats or monkeys, they’re human. They are humans at their most elemental and basic of forms – literally. 8 cells seen under a microscope. This embryo has no human shape, no recognizable features, no tell-tale humanness about it at all. 8 cells. However, and I do not disagree with the pro-life movement on this point, they are no less “human”. We all start out this way.
I ask you: what should the woman above who so desperately longs for a child, do with the 8 human embryos that she is not going to transfer?
If “personhood” amendments pass – anywhere - the consequences for those seeking infertility treatments is profound.
The “personhood amendment” is seeking to assign the same constitutional rights to the 8-celled embryo as you and I have. Its passage would mean that women/couples enduring the arduous, horribly expensive (and not covered under most insurance plans) procedures aimed at ultimately helping them to have a child, would have to decide upon the following choices for their 8 remaining 8-celled embryos:
- Transfer all of them at one time: risking the extreme of high-order multiples, which involves immediate and prolonged risk to the health and well-being of the mother and all babies.
- Indefinitely cryo-freeze the remaining 8 embryos so they can be transferred to the woman at a later date, whether the woman want more children or not, and which involves significant cost and legality.
- What happens if you cryo-freeze the embryos but you and your husband die? What happens to those embryos? Who retains custody of them? Do you have any say whether or not those embryos can be used to create a pregnancy ten, twenty, 100 years from now?
- Donate the remaining embryos to couples who are unable to produce embryos of their own, even using all forms of ART. Essentially – mandating you put your embryos up for adoption.
- Go through lengthy, emotionally and physically painful processes over and over and over again, but creating only one embryo to be transferred, putting the collective odds at a woman’s successful pregnancy at nearly “none”.
- The option to discard embryos not transferred or determined to be of poor quality and thus unlikely to result in a healthy pregnancy is…not an option. To do so would be criminal…murder.
Now most pro-life supporters, and supporters of proposed amendments like these everywhere in the country will say, “So. So what? That 8-celled embryo is a PERSON. If you discard it, or refuse to freeze it indefinitely, or refuse to give it up for adoption and instead let it “die”, it is MURDER.
To them, if you let any of the 8-celled embryos die, it is the same as killing any person you see before you every day.
These are just THREE of the hundreds of intensely complicated and personal scenarios the “personhood” amendments are trying to encompass in one neat, tidy and disgustingly invasive movement.
Here are a few more:
- If a newly fertilized, two-celled embryo is a “person” with every constitutional right that you and I have, can you claim them on your taxes as dependents? If you file your taxes while pregnant, but before you KNOW you’re pregnant, can you petition the government to re-file taxes to claim that unborn dependent?
- If you go through IVF treatments and produced multiple embryos that you will not use, and to avoid murder charges you opt to freeze them indefinitely, and the cryo-freezing storage facility loses power and all embryos die…can the proprietors of that facility be penalized and charged with murder?
- This movement also seeks to govern and in some instances make some forms of birth control illegal. What if you’re on The Pill to avoid pregnancy, but you become pregnant anyway…only you don’t know it. You continue to take The Pill, and that continuation actually facilitates a miscarriage. Can you be penalized for murder in that scenario? Can the manufacturer of The Pill be penalized?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
It is here where I must take a long……… deep………….. slow……………… breath.
It is hard to wrap my head around the staggering audacity of the proponents of this “personhood” movement.
Who are these people who so callously and with faux-Godliness dictate the terms and actions and decisions of a woman’s life – all in the name of their religious beliefs? Who ARE these people?
If you’re one of them…who are YOU? Who exactly do you think you ARE??
What if it was you or your daughter or sister who would die unless her pregnancy was terminated?
What if it was you or your daughter who was raped and became pregnant and was forced to bear that child?
What if it was you or your daughter who wanted so desperately to have a child but could not move forward with infertility treatments for fear of being prosecuted for the murder of her embryos?
What the pro-life/personhood movement will never, ever, ever understand or accept…is that their religious beliefs do not transcend mine, and therefore they should never be allowed to impose their will on a single, solitary woman who is not willing to subjugate themselves to it. They will never see the woman as separate from the embryo, fetus, baby. They will never do that.
They espouse their goal as singular; to save an unborn life at any cost.
However, I suspect their collective goal is much more far-reaching than that. I believe in their eyes they are taking on the role of prophets, saviors, God’s army. And they want something in return for it.
For their sanctimonious avenging in the name of the unborn they hope to save, I believe they want no less than total absolution from God himself. And from where I sit, knowing as much about God’s determining factors for absolution as they do – which is nothing – I don’t think they’ll get it.
These people don’t fool me. And they don’t fool the majority of women, or men, in this country.
They want to take women and make them instruments of their ideology, ignoring the fact that life is imperfect and complicated.
The push-back to the “personhood” movement is growing stronger every day.
If just one of these measures passes, anywhere, push-back will be an understatement.
The majority of women in this country, aided by their doctors and friends and family and clergy, are perfectly willing and capable of making the best decisions possible with regards to their own bodies and what grows from them.
We as women make these intensely personal decisions of our own free-will. We are good people who may find ourselves in extremely difficult circumstances, trying to make the best choices we can considering all factors involved.
And I’ll bet you with everything I’ve got – that any version of any God – is well aware of that.