Memo to ALL: “Personhood” Measures Really Will Hurt ALL Pregnant Women

Lynn Paltrow

Organizations committed to advancing a true culture of life, one that values the women who give that life, should join us in opposing Anti-Abortion "Personhood" Measures.

Over the next several months, Rewire will be covering the "egg-as-person" movement with original reporting by Wendy Norris, and with commentary by experts such as Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.  

Other posts on on this issue on Rewire include Norris’s first pieces here, and here and other pieces by Kay Steiger, Lynn Paltrow, and this cartoon. The search function will also call up other pieces. A version of this article also appears on the On Common Ground Section of Reality Check.

NAPW’s video How Personhood USA & The Bills They Support Will Hurt ALL Pregnant Women and an earlier version making similar points are attracting the attention of anti-abortion organizations who are seeking to advance "Personhood" Measures across the country.  These measures would grant the “unborn,” from the moment of fertilization, full personhood status under state constitutional law. Such measures would not only be used as a basis for ending the right to choose an abortion, they would also provide a basis for depriving pregnant women going to term of their rights to liberty, bodily integrity, medical decision-making and even life.

Judie Brown, president and founder of the American Life League (“ALL”), claims in a commentary entitled Life of the Mother or Lies of Big Brother, that our video is a “fairy tale,” and ALL’s video response, Laws, Lies and Videotape, purports to “point out half truths and outright lies” in our work.  Through these efforts ALL intends to provide a defense of Personhood Measures. Instead, what ALL provides is a defense of court orders forcing pregnant women to have cesarean surgery against their will, and the arrest of pregnant women who are not compliant with their doctor’s wishes.

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In our video we give four examples of cases in which fetal rights arguments (the kind that would become law if so-called Personhood Measures passed) were used to hurt pregnant women who had no intention of ending their pregnancies. In two of the cases, Laura Pemberton and Angela Carder, were forced to undergo cesarean surgery –- denying them the right to liberty, bodily integrity, medical decision making –- and in Ms. Carder’s case, life itself. In another case, a court granted the order for forced cesarean surgery, but the pregnant woman, Amber Marlowe, and her husband John fled the hospital before the order could be enforced. In the fourth one, a woman was arrested for homicide because the state claimed her refusal of cesarean surgery two weeks earlier was what caused one of her twins to be stillborn.

ALL denies that these cases had anything to do with fetal personhood.  Instead, they point to fear of hospital liability, "complex" medical ethics, a misinterpretation of Roe v. Wade, and suggest that pregnant women who are “terminally” ill or seek to go to term in spite of a drug problem, in effect, deserve what they get.

To the
extent ALL does acknowledge that fetal personhood arguments, in fact, had
something to do with forcing pregnant women to undergo unnecessary surgery they
suggest that this has occurred under two circumstances: 1) when a hospital had
reason to fear a potential law suit and 2) when the court order was somehow
consistent with the pregnant woman’s desire to give her baby  "the best chance of survival." ALL then
suggests that these two scenarios are both reasonable and remote.  In fact, most hospitals (where 99% of women
in this country give birth) fear lawsuits, and women going to term generally
desire to give their babies the best chance of survival. What the cases we discuss and many others make clear is that if Personhood Measures pass, courts will be empowered to privilege the opinions of hospitals and doctors who say that surgery will give the baby "the best chance of survival” over the informed judgments of the pregnant woman who has concluded that it will do the opposite. 

Although current law does not in fact permit courts or prosecutors to substitute their judgment for that of pregnant women, "Personhood" Measures would change that. These measures would permit courts, as a routine matter: to appoint lawyers for the unborn, to force pregnant women and their families to participate in emergency court hearings, and then to decide for them what is best for the baby.

NAPW responds to each of ALL’s points in our piece, American Life League:  Anti-Abortion “Personhood” Measures Really Will Hurt ALL Pregnant Women.

We appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate with even greater detail why it is that organizations committed to advancing a true culture of life, one that values the women who give that life, would join us in opposing Anti-Abortion Personhood Measures.


News Violence

Colorado Woman Sentenced to 100 Years for Attack on Pregnant Woman

Jason Salzman

“Dynel Lane will spend the rest of her life in prison and rightfully so,” Rep. Mike Foote (D-LaFayette) said in an email to Rewire.

A question remained for some after a Colorado woman was sentenced Friday to 100 years in prison for cutting a fetus from a pregnant person: Was her punishment sufficient?

Under a state law, Dynel Lane was convicted of additional penalties, on top of attempted murder and other charges, for assaulting a pregnant person, Michelle Wilkins.

But because the statute does not give “personhood” legal standing to a fetus, prosecutors could not bring murder charges and possibly the death penalty against Lane, who destroyed Wilkins’ fetus.

Pro-choice advocates say the 2013 law protects the civil rights of pregnant people by shielding them from potentially wrongful prosecution while still subjecting people like Lane to severe sentences, like the 100-year prison term she received.

“Dynel Lane will spend the rest of her life in prison and rightfully so,” Rep. Mike Foote (D-LaFayette) said in an email to Rewire. “I am thankful the legislature passed my Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act in 2013 and that it was used in her prosecution. We gave prosecutors and courts the tools they need to hold criminals accountable while at the same time keeping personhood out of our statutes. I wish this tragic case would have never happened, but I am glad our law was in place when it did.”

But anti-choice activists argue that Lane should have faced murder charges for her violent act.

“Dynel Lane’s sentence reminds us of what we’ve noticed over the years, that those who support abortion typically oppose the death penalty for the guilty yet support the execution of the innocent,” Colorado Right to Life spokesperson Bob Enyart said in an email to Rewire. “We advocate protecting the innocent and executing the guilty.”

Lane lured Wilkins to her home with a Craigslist advertisement for baby clothes. She then beat Wilkins unconscious and reportedly used two knives to remove the fetus.

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett asked Chief District Judge Maria Berkenkotter for a 118-year sentence, saying, “It won’t bring [Wilkins’ fetus] back, but it will send a message about human life,” according to the Post.

Republican legislators in Colorado have repeatedly advocated for legislation that would give legal rights to a fetus, including a legislative push after Lane attacked Wilkins in 2015.

Democrats defeated the GOP measure, arguing that it could be used to take away abortion rights and to prosecute pregnant people for reckless endangerment, if they damaged a fetus.

Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a 2014 fetal “personhood” initiative that would have given legal standing to fetuses. The measure would have given broad legal rights to fetuses as well—and would have banned legal abortion care in the state.

So-called fetal homicide laws are on the books in 38 states, according to a tally by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLS). Colorado’s law, which does not confer legal rights to a fetus, is among those listed. The NCLS lists 23 states that “have fetal homicide laws that apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy (‘any state of gestation,’ ‘conception,’ ‘fertilization’ or ‘post-fertilization’).”

Wilkins indicated to reporters that she felt justice was achieved in the case after Lane’s conviction in February on all six counts she faced, including multiple felonies.

She called the verdict “a triumph for justice, for Aurora [the name she’d chosen for her fetus], for myself … for the community.”

News Abortion

Missouri Republicans Back ‘Personhood’ Measure, Compare Abortion to Slavery

Michelle D. Anderson

The proposed clauses would add fetuses to the list of Missouri residents who have a "natural right to life" and abolish a pregnant person's right to abortion care.

A proposed amendment aimed at ending legal abortion in Missouri through a so-called personhood law dominated a Tuesday hearing held by the state’s House Committee on Children and Family.

The amendment, called House Joint Resolution (HJR) 98 and sponsored by Rep. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove), would overturn the state’s abortion laws if placed on the state ballot and supported by voters in November. Moon’s proposal requires approval by the state senate and the house, but not Gov. Jay Nixon (D), who has vetoed anti-choice measures passed by Missouri Republicans.

The state constitution would allow the measure to appear on a ballot if the GOP-dominated legislature accepts the amendment.

The proposed clauses would add fetuses to the list of Missouri residents who have a “natural right to life” and abolish a pregnant person’s right to abortion care.

The Republican amendment declares that people would retain the right through their elected state officials to “amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or if necessary to save the life of the mother.”

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HJR 98 had 21 co-sponsors as of Tuesday, all of whom are Republicans.

Moon, who claimed the amendment would protect the health of pregnant people, played a video clip of a fetus during the hearing in an attempt to make his case for the anti-choice measure.

One of the bill’s supporters, Rep. Rick Brattin (R- Harrisonville), compared abortion care to the enslavement of Black people.

Moon gained national attention in December when he proposed the similar All Lives Matter Act, or HB 1794, in an attempt to end legal abortion in Missouri. The proposed anti-choice law sought to define a fertilized egg as “a person” and life as beginning at conception.

That proposal has drawn criticism from Black Lives Matter activists and supporters who noted that the All Lives Matter Act co-opted the movement’s language, which was created to combat the racism and dehumanization of Black people in light of police brutality cases across the country.

Laura Swinford, executive director of Progressive Missouri, tweeted that declaring an embryo a full legal person could ban common forms of birth control like the pill, intrauterine devices, and emergency contraception.

All of those methods of birth control can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

“As a former embryo myself, I would like protection for all embryos,” Moon said, according to the Columbia Missourian.

Officials from NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri have criticized the proposed amendment and charged that the “personhood” measure is unconstitutional.

NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri noted that voters in Oklahoma, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Colorado have all defeated so-called personhood measures. Colorado voters have rejected “personhood” in three elections, prompting some anti-choice activists to call for a localized approach to ending abortion rights.

The house committee on Tuesday held a brief hearing on HB 1953, but only two testimonies were allowed for the proposal.

The proposal, which seeks to restrict fetal tissue donations, is also among a flurry of anti-choice measures proposed by the Republican-dominated Missouri legislature.

There’s no scheduled follow-up hearings on the anti-choice House Joint Resolution, reports the Columbia Missourian.


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