Most women (and their spouses), whether personally comfortable with abortion or not, don’t automatically think about whether or not they might end up in jail, arrested while in labor or strapped to a hospital bed to undergo a forced Cesarean when they get pregnant. Laura Pemberton certainly didn’t before it happened to her. And what happened to her could just as easily happen to you or a girl or woman you know as a result of the expansion of the “personhood” for zygote movement embraced by the leaders of the Republican party (including Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan), written into their platform and pursued, state-by-state, systematically for several years.
Abortion, while the focus of our national conversation about women’s “reproductive” rights, is only the very tip of the iceberg. The same people who are seeking to overturn Roe V. Wade have made it possible, in some cases, necessary, for doctors to lie to their patients, for women to pay for unnecessary medical procedures, for health care clinics to misinform deliberately, for women to be denied healthcare entirely, for women to undergo what feels like the torture of seeing their dying babies, for 14 year old girls to kill their babies because they aren’t being taught where they come from. Obstacles, laws, taxes and shaming procedures do nothing to reduce abortions, they just make girls and women vulnerable and their lives more precarious. The toll that these measures take on girls and women is immeasurable. That’s why I put the word “reproductive” in quotation marks. Have you ever considered why we use that qualifier? No such descriptive prefix exists for men, right? Women’s rights shouldn’t be qualified either. As it is, they are subject to the whims of legislators (86% of whom are men), voters, judges, police officers, pharmacists, well – just about anyone really.
This is why the question “Will you make abortion illegal in all circumstances?” is the wrong one to ask a candidate. Please stop and consider these questions instead: “How will your policies criminalize pregnancy and infringe on women’s rights?” ”How will your actions lead to women losing their freedom and the privileges of citizenship?” And, I’m not talking about women in other countries.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan support personhood for fetus legislation. And, despite Mitt Romney’s attempts to appear moderate on the “abortion issue” he is explicit in his intent to change the composition of the Supreme Court. This is the result:
1. Give the government the right to seize a woman’s body to protect a fetus
2. Empower hospitals and doctors, with government support, to force a woman to bear a child and/or have a Cesarean or other medical procedures against her will
3. Criminalize abortion (including all circumstances: rape, incest, life-threatening pregnancy, severe fetal deformity) and certain miscarriages
4. Criminalize stillbirths in some situations (who decides which?)
5. Treat all women of reproductive age as potentially pregnant with related consequences
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are as anti-choice as candidates can be. You may also believe that abortion is the wrong choice for you personally. But, that’s usually where the conversation stops. And that’s a dangerous mistake. It’s not about abortion yes or no. It’s about women’s personhood and rights. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, and you don’t have time to read this post — take time to watch these three videos. Put aside culture war language that deliberately and superficially pits ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ people against one another and consider the following: The women and families in these videos, many of whom oppose or opposed abortion, came, too sadly, to understand through horrific personal experience why “choice” is actually about freedom and why denying women their rights is a betrayal of fundamental American ideas regarding citizenship.
Video No. 1
Since this video was made, the number of states where these bills, explicit in their language, have been introduced has expanded to more than two dozen. If you consider the hidden personhood bills the number is much higher.
In December of last year, while you were working or food shopping or working out or reading to your kids, Republican presidential candidates quietly signed Personhood USA’s Personhood Pledge promising to pursue an amendment to the Constitution that would protect the full inalienable “personhood” rights of zygotes by extending the protections of the 14th Amendment to fetuses from the moment of conception and outlawing any medical technology or practices that inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg.
In addition to creating a petri dish for criminalizing pregnant women, personhood legislation, both overt or disguised, bans most forms of birth control (including pills and IUDs) and in vitro fertilization. Yes, many of these bills outlaw birth control and shut down fertility clinics. The treatment of dangerous ectopic pregnancies becomes a matter of possible imprisonment for doctors and life or death for women experiencing them.
Video No. 2
This video has some overlap, but includes crucial additional information.
Now, I’m not keen on pitting a woman’s rights against those of her fetus. Although useful to understand certain issues, it sets up a false and misleading dichotomy. Gestation, during which a woman chooses to share her body in complex, fully integrated ways, is the exact opposite of separation. Women are not separate from their fetuses. A key strategy of this movement is to pretend that they are and to enshrine that idea in dangerous laws. Women are not heartless production facilities or vessels or any number of other updated variations of spermist theory homunculous container. But, because of the constructs being established by this movement on “behalf” of zygotes, a hospital can waive your right to life, in violation of your or your family’s instructions, to save your fetus. Indeed, forget the hospital, just ask Paul Ryan about his no exceptions for life of mother legislation or read the GOP platform. Why would I ever take the advice that “they’ll never do what they say” when, like Melissa Rowland, I could be charged with murder if I exercise my right to informed medical decision making?”
Ms. Rowland was charged with murder after one of her twins was stillborn, allegedly as a result of her decision not to have cesarean surgery two weeks earlier. Yes, you can be imprisoned like Bei Bei Shuai, a woman living in Indiana who attempted suicide while pregnant (committing suicide – the result of the fully human experience of uncontrollable existential despair – is not a crime, by the way). Friends managed to save her, and although Ms. Shuai did everything she could, including undergoing Cesarean surgery, her newborn died shortly after birth. She was arrested and charged with murder and attempted feticide and locked up without bail. (A Free Bei Bei petition was recently launched on Change.org.) Your 11-year old daughter, if raped and pregnant as a result, would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term or face criminal charges. I don’t have the time or space here to go into what happens to a pregnant woman who is already incarcerated. Consider Amanda Kimbrough, a woman struggling with meth addiction, convicted of chemical endangerment under a statute making it illegal to bring a child into a meth lab. She is only one of more than 40 women in that state alone imprisoned for substance abuse while pregnant. But, here’s the thing – today the chemical endangerment is meth. Tomorrow it could be your chemotherapy.
Which brings us to a really important point: The fact that the personhood movement is openly seeking to institute a theocracy does not mean that there aren’t deeply religious men and women who recognize the implications of what they are doing and reject them. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which was founded in 1973 is a case in point. The coalition includes a broad and diverse interfaith group who understand the profound issues related to “choices.” Consider this last video, produced by Atlee Breland and the Parents Against MS26 organization during Mississippi’s personhood bill debate.
Video No. 3
Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women founded the organization to protect women’s rights and dignity, particularly pregnant and parenting women and those who are most vulnerable usually low-income women, women of color, and women who are substance dependent. Why her name is not a household one is beyond me. Melissa McEwan, who earlier this year started a Personhood for Women petition suggesting that “a person identifying as a woman and/or having a uterus shall retain all of the full, basic, and fundamental rights of a U.S. citizen understood the danger, too.
Personhood-based initiatives are being introduced, debated and passed across the country. A few months ago, in an attempt to end run an overtly “personhood” failure, Arizona state Senate passed what the ACLU described as the most extreme bill of its kind. The bill not only moved to ban abortions after 20 weeks (that would be 1.5 percent of abortions, usually those most deserving of kindness and sympathy for the people involved) but also sought to extend the definition of pregnancy to include the two weeks before conception — that would be while a woman has her period. The implication, as Amanda Marcotte pointed out in RH Reality Check is that “they’d simply prefer a situation where all women of reproductive age are considered to be pregnant, on the grounds that they could be two weeks from now.”
In addition, as Paltrow and Emma Ketteringham recently pointed out in this article: This is not just a legislative concern, but also a judicial one. “If judges decide that the homicide law permits the prosecution of a teenager whose fetus is stillborn because of drug use, then all pregnant women who suffer such losses can be prosecuted for the crime of homicide. This is because such a decision isn’t about being a teenager or using drugs — it is about a personhood measure: redefining eggs, embryos, and fetuses in such a way as to give the state power to investigate, control, and punish women in relationship to their pregnancy outcomes.”
Think hard about what happens when we create legislative or judicial precedents based on what could happen to a fetus and punishing women for decisions they make while pregnant. ”Personhood” and feticide laws already on the books in 38 states are insidiously dismantling any semblance of women’s equality and although extreme personhood bills are being defeated, even their introduction makes anything short of their passage, in the form of a diluted version of their original intent, seem like some kind of “gift” that women should be grateful for as opposed to the absurd and truly radical assault on rights that they represent.
The Personhood movement would have you believe this is a simple matter of stopping bad people from selfishly killing defenseless “children.” But, as Paltrow points out in her work, somehow it is women who turn out to be the bad murderous people doing the worse kind of “killing” by having abortions when in actuality it is the same women, you, me, your spouse, your daughter, your best friend, who also give birth to and raise our children. This is how they put it on their website: “Personhood is the new civil rights movement of the 21st century… these are the times that test men’s souls.” That is CORRECT. These are the times that test men’s souls and strip women of their hard-fought for and fragile rights and dignity. Every time a potential president, legislative body or judiciary champions this cause this is what it is committing every girl and woman and family in the country to.
If these are fundamental betrayals of freedom I don’t know what are. “Personhood” for zygotes cruelly subverts the very idea of a culture of life and potentially criminalizes every pregnant woman. If you vote for people who support this movement because of their or your personal religious beliefs this is what you are doing.
As Americans in particular we are proud of our individual liberties. Women have the right to chose for themselves. Just as Romney and Ryan can choose for themselves. The difference is, these men and too many of their party peers seek to impose their belief on all of us through legislation, whereas no woman is asking them to have abortions. Or risk their lives. Or risk their health. Or impoverish their children. Or imperil their ability to go to school and work. Our system only works if we trust people – and that includes WOMEN – to decide for themselves what is best for them. Women are morally competent.
We are forgetting ourselves.
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