PERSONHOOD

Lynn Paltrow

In the majority opinion of the landmark case Roe v. Wade, Justice Harry Blackmum wrote: 

“If this suggestion of personhood is established, [Roe’s] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”

Since Blackmum’s prophetic warning, legislatures have proposed over 330 personhood bills, granting constitutional rights to unborn persons as early as conception. While these bills come in many variations, the most prolific form is in Fetal Homicide Laws, which states that the killing of a fetus constitutes murder. Originally justified as a way to protect pregnant women, in practice these laws give the criminal justice system the power to prosecute pregnant woman if it is suspected that their actions negatively affected their pregnancy. Over 500 women have been arrested under these laws, which exist in 38 states, and in 2015 the first woman ever was convicted of feticide and sentenced to 20 years in prison.  

Because feticide laws are billed as protecting women from third party violence, feticide laws often pass with little opposition and a remarkable degree of bipartisan support. Often in the wake of a horrific crime, legislators who otherwise support reproductive justice are often, to use the words of a character in Bei Bei, "tricked into sponsoring a bill [they] never would have endorsed had [they] seen the 'fine print.'" That "fine print" is a set of terms - well honed by anti-abortion activists - that define the fetus as distinct from the mother with a separate set of rights. 

Experts and advocates argue the personhood movement is an elaborate scheme to chip away at reproductive rights by making the rights of a fetus greater than the mother’s.

"The Personhood Movement" - Pro Publica

"Fetal Homicide Laws" - The National Conference of State Legislators

Pregnant Women and Personhood Laws Infographic

 

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