News Law and Policy

Republicans Push Deeply Unpopular ‘Personhood’ Bill in Congress

Christine Grimaldi

"Personhood" laws would criminalize abortion with no exception and ban many forms of contraception, in vitro fertilization, and health care for pregnant people.

Congressional Republicans recently introduced yet another federal “personhood” bill despite widespread opposition on Capitol Hill and among Americans to criminalizing abortion care at fertilization.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) stated that goal in the very name of his latest version, HR 586: “To provide that human life shall be deemed to begin with fertilization.” Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and their counterparts in the U.S. Senate have introduced measures to that effect under various names, including the Sanctity of Human Life Act and the Life at Conception Act, for more than a decade. They have failed to advance on every occasion.

So-called personhood laws, a favorite tactic of anti-choice activists for decades, seek to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as “persons,” and to grant them full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution, including the right to life from the moment of conception. If enacted, the laws would criminalize abortion with no exception and ban many forms of contraception, in vitro fertilization, and health care for pregnant people.

State-level personhood bills and ballot initiatives have been met with repeated failure. Colorado voters in 2014 overwhelmingly defeated a “personhood” amendment on the state ballot for the third time in six years. North Dakota voters defeated a similar ballot measure that same year.

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“Personhood” ballot measures and legislation have failed to pass multiple times in Mississippi, though such opposition hasn’t stopped anti-choice Republicans from forging ahead as recently as 2015.

So far this year, Republicans in Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have introduced so-called personhood measures.

On Capitol Hill, the latest personhood attempt joins a slew of anti-choice bills, including the first-ever total abortion ban, that Republicans have introduced in the barely three weeks since the start of the 115th Congress. The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017 (HR 7), a biannual attempt to codify the Hyde Amendment.

HR 7 will likely pass the House with GOP support, as it has in prior years, but the Senate has yet to consider it. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) was behind several identical and related bills that failed to advance in the Senate.

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