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The All-Fronts War on Reproductive Freedom


Irin Carmon has an excellent piece about the “Personhood Amendment” being proposed in Mississippi, which should be read in its entirety. The key issues under discussion:

That’s partly because the Personhood movement hopes to do nothing less than reclassify everyday, routine birth control as abortion. The medical definition of pregnancy is when a fertilized egg successfully implants in the uterine wall. If this initiative passes, and fertilized eggs on their own have full legal rights, anything that could potentially block that implantation – something a woman’s body does naturally all the time – could be considered murder. Scientists say hormonal birth-control pills and the morning-after pill work primarily by preventing fertilization in the first place, but the outside possibility, never documented, that an egg could be fertilized anyway and blocked is enough for some pro-lifers.


Personhood represents an unapologetic and arguably more ideologically consistent form of the anti-choice movement. It aims squarely for Roe v. Wade by seizing on language from former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun – the author of the Roe decision — during the hearings that the case would “collapse” if “this suggestion of personhood is established … for the fetus.”

The strategy of Mississippi anti-choicers, first of all, is yet another reminder that attempting to reach common ground on reducing unwanted pregnancies is unlikely to work. Second, I agree with Carmon that the strategy probably represents overreaching. Abortion criminalization is a minority position, but has enough support to win in conservative states. But opposition to birth control is extremely unpopular, and the shift in poll numbers against the initiative that has occurred as the opposition has made the anti-birth control implications clear is striking. If it’s a political loser in Mississippi, it will be a loser anywhere.

Unfortunately, even if this amendment fails Mississippi anti-choicers have very successfully used Casey-approved regulations to make abortion inaccessible. Raney Aronson-Rath’s documentary on the subject is essential viewing on the subject.

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  • DrDick

    The forced birther crowd are not and never have been “pro-life.” They are quite simply anti-woman. Virtually nobody in that movement really believes that a fetus is a real human being or a person. If they did, they would insist on trying women who have abortions and the doctors who provide them with murder. They actively do not want to do that and shy away like they have been stuck with a branding iron if you suggest it.

    • Lindsay Beyerstein

      Nevermind abortions. If these clowns took their own rhetoric seriously, they’d be calling for the death penalty for women who wear IUDs because they’re serial killers of Fertilized Ovum Americans.

    • wiley

      They would also be insisting that pregnant women receive medical care and that these women be coddled for the sake of their baby. I’m hearing, “Bitch, get back to work I need to keep up with the payments on my monster truck.”

    • Murc

      You know, I’ve always been inclined to cut the forced birthers some slack on this one specific point. I think that they DO want to try women who have abortions and the doctors who provide them with murder.

      But they don’t SAY that because it would mean they’d lose before they even began. It’s a calculated political ploy that’s pretty common in a wide variety of movements, including ones I support.

      It doesn’t mean they’re not evil douchebags, of course.

      • DrDick

        I think you give them far too much credit for intellectual consistency and honesty. There may be a few who do as you indicate, but I think they are a small minority of the movement. When confronted with this question, they do not just waffle and sidestep as they usually do to avoid revealing their true agenda, but actively recoil from the idea.

  • Birth control IS abortion! And work makes you free!

    • Bill Murray

      Masturbation is considered abortion in some circles, and it gives you squint eyes and hairy palms. Rosy Palm is just a myth

      • Bill Murray

        I should say male masturbation. Your male seed should not be spilled on the ground

        • MPAVictoria

          Cue Monty Python.

      • DrDick

        What about the Rosy Psalm?

  • Anonymous

    It’ll be fun when all the infertile wingnuts realize what this would do to IVF.

    • wengler

      I think they already have. Wasn’t the whole stem cell debate more or less about this?

      • DrDick

        The irony in this is that the alternatives for those ovum was not between being used in research or held to fertilize women, it was between research and the garbage can. It still is. In most cases, after the woman is successfully impregnated and delivers, the remaining ovum are destroyed.

    • flounder

      Heck, I think it will be fun when they realize that pregnant women will be forced to sit in child safety seats in the back seat of cars.

  • wengler

    It is a profoundly illogical position to give developing human life the same rights and privileges as a fully formed person. It makes as much sense as convicting people of murder for killing a bug(which in fact is a fully formed, independent creature).

    People that can’t make this distinction in their head are usually so indoctrinated in ideology that it IS impossible to find common ground.

    • Anonymous

      What I still don’t understand is why “personhood” even should matter. Even if a fertilized egg/zygote/embryo/fetus/whatever is accorded the same rights as a fully formed person, how can the government compel one person to give their body over for the benefit of another? The government can’t compel you to donate a kidney. It can’t even compel you to donate blood to another person, even your own child, even if that person will die without it. So why should it be able to compel a woman to have her entire body hijacked by the fetus growing inside her? Even normal, healthy pregnancies pose serious health risks, certainly far more than a blood donation would. I wish this argument would get more play, but it never does.

      (And yes, I know that the “logic” of “pro-lifers” is not logical at all, and that their positions are, as stated already, just about punishing women, but still.)

      • R Johnston

        how can the government compel one person to give their body over for the benefit of another?

        It can’t. We fought a civil war and passed the 13th Amendment to establish that fact.

        The failure to ground abortion rights in the 13th Amendment has long been a terrible mistake.

      • dave

        The government can compel you to undergo military training, deploy to a combat zone, and get blown into small pieces. Apparently, that’s different. [Yes, I know it doesn’t, unless you’re a reservist who gets the call, but it definitely can.]

  • Pingback: Truth Wins Out - Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment and the American Family Association()

  • wiley

    I had a stillborn child for reasons unknown. The medical world doesn’t know why so many don’t make it to term, it’s nature itself. After losing a baby I had every intention of keeping, after loving it and being in awe of it for eight months, after looking forward to the possibility of her being born on my birthday, after having the excruciating experience of delivering a still born child—which meant doing it with only a Tylenol for pain relief, because in a normal delivery the baby does half the work—after hearing family members saying all the wrong things, after a gynecologist charging me eight hundred dollars for stopping by a minute to patronize me after the delivery (he did not get that money, and I told him exactly why), after scattering her ashes in a garden by a pond where children ice skate in the winter, after feeling the most profound and pure grief I had ever felt in my life or have felt since, after all THAT if some wingnut busybody religious nutjob tried to accuse me of murder—I think I could kill. I really do. I could murder that asshole.

    • Emma in Sydney

      I would consider that self-defence, Wiley. I’m so sorry about your daughter. It happened in my family too (though not to me) and there is nothing worse.

      • wiley

        Yes. There is something much worse—giving birth to a healthy child, knowing it, sharing the child with others so that others know it too, and then that child dying at any age. I could not bear that. I can embrace the ambiguity of mourning and even sometimes sobbing for my loss for the rest of my life while also being content with being childless. But, any movie or story of parents losing a living child tears me to pieces. How could anyone survive that? I do not know. I have always felt that way, though, even before I lost mine. I hated Spielberg for decades for killing that kid in Jaws.

        • Emma in Sydney

          Well, yes, I guess it is not wise to compare. But as a mother of five, I can agree that the dying child as plot device makes me hate a lot of novelists and film makers too.

  • Zygotes are people like us, just smaller, about 0.1 microns long or 10,000 to the yard.

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