Commentary Human Rights

Not a Joke: Personhood for Women

Soraya Chemaly

What are you, as a woman, or as a man related to one, willing to trade when you vote for a presidential candidate who signed the Personhood Pledge or a legislator who supports anti-choice "personhood"-based bills?

Melissa McEwan 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 US citizen as guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence” and urging Senators Patty Murray, Al Franken and Kristin Gillibrand to consider proposing this as an amendment in Congress. It’s not a joke. As far as I can tell, it’s an anti-“personhood for zygotes” (fertilized eggs) petition and important since we are apparently, as a country, electing people who are willing to endanger women’s equality, liberty and fundamental rights.

What are you, as a woman, or as a man related to one, willing to trade when you vote for a presidential candidate who signed the Personhood Pledge or a legislator who supports anti-choice “personhood”-based bills? Are you really going to vote to trade rights for talking points? 

Of the Republican presidential candidates, only Mitt Romney hasn’t yet signed the Personhood Pledge, for which he’s been castigated by the anti-choice movement. Presidential candidates, and those that support personhood, are pledging to do the following:

  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 against her will
  3. Criminalize abortion (including all circumstances: rape, incest, life-threatening pregnancy, severe fetal deformity)
  4. Criminalize stillbirths in certain situations (who decides which?)
Examples of these state powers are sadly already available.  Case in point: Bei Bei Shuai,  a pregnant woman living in Indiana became so depressed that she attempted suicide. 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 after her fetus died. She is in currently in prison.  A Free Bei Bei petition was recently launched on  If you want to learn more  about the punishment of pregnant women visit National Advocates for Pregnant Women. But, you might want to take an anti-depressant before you do.
In addition, personhood legislation 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.

Personhood USA, the center of the movement, believes that a fertilized egg, from the moment of conception, is a fully human person with an inalienable right to life and that its rights and the state’s interest in protecting those rights trump a woman’s. Personhood is how we’re dismantling equality by eroding women’s reproductive rights, passing rape sonogram legislation, taxing rape victims who seek abortions, and criminalizing basic health care. And although personhood bills are being defeated just their very introduction makes anything short of their passage seem like some kind of “gift” that women should be grateful for as opposed to the absurd assault on rights that they represent.

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By signing the pledge these candidates have promised, should they be elected president, to pursue an amendment to the Constitution that would protect the full inalienable “personhood” rights of zygotes from the moment of conception. The candidates are not alone in their support for Personhood for fertilized eggs.  Personhood USA, which is organized, passionate, divinely mandated and literally on a “mission” is gaining momentum every day as evidenced by the 135 plus bills being pursued this year alone in state legislatures across he country.  And, although specific personhood bills are being defeated, related legislation is not and their very introduction makes anything short of their passage seem like some kind of “gift” that women should be grateful for as opposed to the absurd assault on rights that they represent. 

Every time a legislative body champions this cause this is what it is committing women to. I will not, here, discuss the impact on doctors (who may refuse to treat women with ectopic pregnancies for fear of criminal prosecution, for example) or – god forbid – the scientific denialism of people pretending to be doctors in state legislatures and potentially the White House.

What does this look like? Take five minutes to consider:

A woman, like Laura Pemberton was, can be arrested for refusing a life-threatening Caesarian. Yes, a hospital can waive your right to life, in violation of your or your family’s instructions, to save your fetus. Yes, like Melissa Rowland, you can be charged with murder if you have a still-born birth. Yes, 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. And, yes, you can be taken from your home and imprisoned in a hospital to give birth there by a method you do not chose.  The Georgia State Legislature just passed a bill in the House, after a debate involving a conversation about “cows” and “hogs” whose net effect, taken in tandem with other restrictions, will be that some women will end up carry dying fetuses because doctors, facing criminal prosecution, will be unable to perform abortions.  I hope this is worth lower taxes for Clear Channel communications.

Is “personhood” personal enough to be political for you yet? What do these people need to do for this to become a priority? Even socially conservative women must be able to see where this is heading. If not, then at the very least they have to admit to their race and class privileges because primarily wealthy, primarily white women will always be able to find a way to secure a quiet abortion and get basic health care.

The only way to stop this is to vote. I hope, for those men and women considering voting for one of these men, that they understand what exactly what they are trading away on all of our behalves if they ignore this movement. Here’s a handy chart for prioritizing what to trade for women’s rights and human dignity. I was going to spend some time making this chart brighter, flow-charty, colorful and less simple and out-dated looking, but these ideas are simple and a sad rehashing of out-dated debates that have no place in a today’s world.


The rights on the left side of this chart – they have implications for the economy, for government spending, for immigration policy, for taxation, for…everything. But, since this is a “womens’ issue” we’ll just ignore all of those implications, marginalize them, scoff at “single-issue” voters and whiney feminist willfully ignore that there is NOTHING serious and important that isn’t a women’s issue.

I did not add basic health care as a right on this chart because we don’t consider it a human right in this country (never has If Men Had Periods been truer). But, make no mistake, basic health care unrelated to sexual health, for people that are female, is being negotiated away and eliminated entirely as I type. Rick Perry, the Republican Governor of Texas and the Republican Legislature, chose this week to forgo $35 million in federal money to finance women’s health programs because they oppose a woman’s right to chose to have an abortion. As a result, millions of women are losing access to health care clinics, doctors, tests, preventative medicine and more. I love it when people say women like me are single-issue voters when the reality is social conservative politicians are single-issue legislators: the only way to sacrifice women’s overall health care needs and enact physically invasive, punitive medically unnecessary procedures is if you are singularly obsessed with controlling one-dimension of women’s lives: their sexuality. When all you value a woman for is access to and use of her reproductive organs then you end up with the situation we’re in now.

This is how Personhood Movement puts it in it’s deceptively oh-so-benign but none-the-less-dangerous, ethereal, new-agey-music infused video: “Personhood is the new civil rights movement of the 21st century…”these are the times that test men’s souls.” 

Yes, 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. Maybe anyone concerned with the inalienable rights of other people should start with the ones that already exist.

The Personhood movement would have you believe this is a simple matter of stopping bad people from selfishly killing defenseless “children.” But, of course, it’s not. It’s a very complex bio-ethical and legal issue, regarding definitions of “human,” “person,” “nature,” “rights,” “child,” “moral,” “ethical” and more. It includes, god forbid, science. If you care to take the time, it is comprehensively covered in this report by the Coalition for a Secular Government, which even deeply religious people who understand the value of our political system, can embrace. 

These presidential candidates promised to sign away women’s fundamental rights when they signed that pledge and conservative, religiously motivated state legislators are doing the same. Three core Republican beliefs are that:

  • Our country was founded on the fundamental principle that individuals have rights and freedoms
  • Government intervention into the lives of private citizens should be limited
  • Traditional values and freedoms of the American Republic should be reaffirmed

By signing this pledge and by introducing these bills, conservatives, especially Republican who overwhelmingly support Personhood legislation, are either betraying these beliefs in individual rights as the most basic principle of justice in a society or demonstrating that they don’t believe women are included in the definition of full citizens with full rights and privileges. It’s not a matter of rejecting these core beliefs, it’s a matter of rejecting the idea that women – who are not just wombs with legs – are equal under the law as full citizens with rights.

And yes, I added fetal extraction to the chart since I NEVER want my daughters to ask me how I sat still and didn’t take the Personhood movement seriously. 

Personhood adherents, obsessive in their pursuit of a narrowly and perversely applied morality would have no problems positioning forced fetal extraction as entirely within the realm of acceptable practices given what they are suggesting now.  The rational extension of the precedents set by Personhood bills and other related legislation, like rape sonogram laws, mean that states could easily require my daughters and yours to have their fetuses extracted for any number of reasons. Who decides how you gestate and which environment is “best” for a zygote? Or which scenario, since we’re so fascinated with insurance and religious freedom, which aren’t about women’s issues at all, which is more economical and moral? Your gamete-partner? Your legislator? Your employer? Your insurance company? Your doctor? Your judge? Your doofy, aw-shucks, sweater-vested pro-life Senator or ex-Mormon bishop who may yet sign a Personhood Pledge?

Anyone but you. I know – I’m exaggerating because I’m one of those feminist people. All this hand-wringing and clinging to my rights over my own body and human dignity.

Ensuring that women’s rights and dignity are recognized, respected and preserved does not force anyone to use birth control, have an abortion, undergo a dangerous cesarean, use in vitro technology, go to jail if they miscarry or deny the fundamental humanity of another person. Taking away those rights however, does. That’s what supporters of “personhood” for zygotes commit all of us if we don’t take them seriously.  That’s why the Personhood for Women petition isn’t a joke.  

Our country is not a theocracy (although here’s a test): it is free. Nothing threatens to turn it into one so much as the Personhood movements anti-life, anti-choice, anti-equality very open intent to inform the distribution of rights according to explicitly stated religious beliefs and enlisting our political representatives to be their foot soldiers. Reproductive freedom is a fundamental right.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.