‘Personhood’

Last updated: March 18, 2016

“Personhood” laws 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.

“Personhood” laws criminalize abortion with no exception, and also ban many forms of contraception, in vitro fertilization, and health care for pregnant women. “Personhood” laws also increase an already dangerous trend of criminalizing pregnancy, by mandating that women who terminate a pregnancy be arrested, prosecuted, and even imprisoned because of the supposed injury done to a separate “person”—namely, the fetus. So-called fetal homicide laws are already being used in many states to arrest and prosecute women who miscarry pregnancies or are otherwise seen as “harming” the fetus.

“Personhood” laws have been a favorite tactic of anti-choice activists for decades, but efforts to pass these laws have met with little success.

In Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the notion that a fetus is a person. In addition, no federal or state law bans abortion or presents any obstacle to reproductive health care on the basis that a fetus is a person.

Despite this history of failure, however, “personhood” proponents continue to introduce these bills as part of the broader anti-choice strategy toward their goal of banning all abortions and monitoring the lives of pregnant women.

The “personhood” movement is active in each of the 50 states (some more so than others), usually operating through an organization called Personhood USA. The Personhood USA website defines the movement as follows: “Personhood is a movement working to respect the God-given right to life by recognizing all human beings as persons who are ‘created in the image of God’ from the beginning of their biological development, without exceptions.”

Personhood USA’s efforts do not enjoy universal support, even within the anti-choice movement. The National Right to Life Committee and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have refused to back state-level measures out of fear that state-level amendments will make their way to the Supreme Court and result in a decision that would reaffirm Roe v. Wade and undermine the progress that has been made in chipping away at the constitutional right to abortion at the state level.

Examples of “Personhood” Laws (last updated January 9, 2015)

At the federal level, two pieces of legislation—the Sanctity of Human Life Act and the Life at Conception Act—are introduced in Congress year after year; they have failed on each occasion.

Legislative efforts at the state level have been largely unsuccessful. Only two states—Kansas and Missouri—have “personhood” language on their books. In 1986, Missouri passed a law that contained language stating that “the life of each human being begins at conception” and “unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being.” But because the Missouri law contains a provision that makes it subject to the United States Constitution and the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Supreme Court ruled that the law is not unconstitutional in its 1989 decision Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services.

In 2013, Kansas enacted the Pro-Life Protections Act (HB 2253), an omnibus abortion bill containing “personhood” language declaring that life begins at fertilization. Although that law has not been challenged in court, it is likely constitutional because, like the law in Missouri, it is expressly subject to the United States Constitution and therefore does not conflict with constitutional abortion jurisprudence.

In addition to repeated attempts to pass “personhood” legislation at the state and federal level, “personhood” activists frequently attempt to place “personhood” initiatives on the ballot in the hopes that voters will approve them. These efforts have been largely unsuccessful. In the last five years, 13 states have attempted to place “personhood” measures on the ballot. Only two states—Colorado and Mississippi—have put “personhood” measures to a vote. Voters have rejected the measures in both states.

The first state to attempt to pass a “personhood” amendment was Colorado, in 2008. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure during the 2008 elections and again during the 2010 elections, both times by a 2-1 margin. Efforts to place an initiative on the November 2012 ballot failed, but “personhood” activists successfully placed the Colorado Definition of Person and Child Initiative, Amendment 67, also known as the Brady Amendment, on the ballot for November 2014, where it failed.

In 2011, Mississippi attempted to pass a “personhood” amendment (Initiative 26). It was rejected by a margin of 42 to 58. In March 2013, “personhood” activists in Mississippi filed paperwork with the secretary of state for another “personhood” amendment (Initiative 41) and are still trying to gather the requisite signatures for the initiative to appear on the ballot in November 2015.

In 2012, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a “personhood” initiative (Initiative Petition No. 395) that would have amended that state’s constitution to define “person” as “any human being from the beginning of biological development to natural death” on the grounds that it was “clearly unconstitutional.”

In 2013, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the lieutenant governor and state attorney general’s 2012 decision to reject a “personhood” ballot initiative on similar grounds.

On November 4, 2014, voters in North Dakota rejected by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent SCR 4009, a “personhood” ballot initiative that sought to amend the North Dakota constitution to establish “personhood”. Similarly, in Colorado, voters rejected a “personhood” measure, Amendment 67, by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent.

Laws

Title Number State Proposed Status
Alabama ‘Personhood’ Bill 2013 (SB 205) SB 205 Alabama February 14, 2013 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Amendment (HJR 12) HJR 12 Iowa March 6, 2013 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Amendment (SJR 10) SJR 10 Iowa April 25, 2013 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Bill (HF 138) HF 138 Iowa February 6, 2013 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Bill (HF 171) HF 171 Iowa February 7, 2013 Failed to Pass
Mississippi ‘Personhood’ Amendment (HCR 14) HCR 14 Mississippi January 11, 2013 Failed to Pass
Mississippi Protection of the Human Person Act (HB 819) HB 819 Mississippi January 21, 2013 Failed to Pass
North Dakota ‘Personhood’ Bill (SB 2303) SB 2303 North Dakota January 23, 2013 Failed to Pass
North Dakota ‘Personhood’ Amendment (SCR 4009) SCR 4009 North Dakota January 23, 2013 Failed to Pass
Oklahoma ‘Personhood’ Act of 2013 (HB 1029) HB 1029 Oklahoma February 12, 2013 Failed to Pass
Oklahoma Protection of Human Life Act 2013 (HB 1025) HB 1025 Oklahoma February 4, 2013 Failed to Pass
Oklahoma Protection of Human Life Act 2013 (HB 2070) HB 2070 Oklahoma February 4, 2013 Failed to Pass
‘Personhood’ Act of South Carolina (H 3323) H 3323 South Carolina January 15, 2013 Failed to Pass
‘Personhood’ Act of South Carolina (S 83) S 83 South Carolina January 8, 2013 Failed to Pass
‘Personhood’ Act of South Carolina (H 3584) H 3584 South Carolina February 21, 2013 Failed to Pass
‘Personhood’ Act of South Carolina (S 457) S 457 South Carolina February 28, 2013 Failed to Pass
South Carolina Life Beginning at Conception Act (S 87) S 87 South Carolina January 8, 2013 Failed to Pass
Kansas ‘Pro-Life’ Protections Act (HB 2253) HB 2253 Kansas February 6, 2013 Failed to Pass
Washington State Life at Conception Act (HB 1259) HB 1259 Washington January 21, 2013 Failed to Pass
Kansas Human Life Amendment (HCR 5010) HCR 5010 Kansas February 5, 2013 Failed to Pass
Mississippi ‘Personhood’ Ballot Initiative 41 Initiative 41 Mississippi March 5, 2013 Failed to Pass
Sanctity of Human Life Act (2013) HR 23 Federal January 3, 2013 Failed to Pass
The Life at Conception Act of 2013 S 583 Federal March 14, 2013 Failed to Pass
Georgia ‘Personhood’ Amendment (SR 420) SR 420 Georgia February 28, 2013 Failed to Pass
Montana ‘Personhood’ Amendment (LC 1580) LC 1580 Montana December 5, 2012 Failed to Pass
Wisconsin Bill Amending Wrongful Death Statute (AB 160) AB 160 Wisconsin April 17, 2013 Failed to Pass
Alabama ‘Personhood’ Bill 2014 (SB 414) SB 414 Alabama February 26, 2014 Failed to Pass
Arkansas Bill Amending Definition of “Unborn Child” in Wrongful Death Actions (SB 417) SB 417 Arkansas February 20, 2013 Current
Colorado Definition of Person and Child Initiative (Amendment 67) Amendment 67 Colorado Failed to Pass
South Carolina Pregnant Women’s Protection Act (S 527) S 527 South Carolina March 13, 2013 Failed to Pass
Colorado Abortion Ban (HB 1033) HB 1033 Colorado January 9, 2013 Failed to Pass
Colorado Bill Regarding the Protection of Human Life at Conception (HB 1133) HB 1133 Colorado January 16, 2014 Failed to Pass
Colorado Bill Regarding Civil Damages for Unlawful Termination of Pregnancy (HB 1324) HB 1324 Colorado March 19, 2014 Failed to Pass
Colorado Civil Damages for the Unlawful Termination of a Pregnancy (HB 1388) HB 1388 Colorado April 21, 2014 Signed into Law
Kansas Bill Prohibiting Civil Action Lawsuits Concerning Abortion Consultation (SB 142) SB 142 Kansas February 7, 2013 Current
Illinois Bill Regarding Vital Records – Stillbirth (HB 960) HB 960 Illinois January 24, 2013 Failed to Pass
“Personhood” Act of South Carolina (S 129) S 129 South Carolina December 3, 2014 Proposed
New Hampshire All People Created Equal Act 2014 (HB 1504) HB 1504 New Hampshire March 25, 2014 Failed to Pass
New Hampshire All People Created Equal Act 2015 (HB 194) HB 194 New Hampshire January 8, 2015 Proposed
Mississippi ‘Personhood’ Bill (HB 1309) HB 1309 Mississippi January 19, 2015 Failed to Pass
Alaska Bill Regarding Wrongful Death of an Unborn Child – Jackson’s Law (SB 200) SB 200 Alaska February 24, 2014 Current
Alaska Bill Regarding Wrongful Death of an Unborn Child – Jackson’s Law (HB 258) HB 258 Alaska January 21, 2014 Failed to Pass
Washington Life at Conception Act (HB 1687) HB 1687 Washington January 26, 2015 Proposed
Colorado Bill Regarding the Protection of Human Life At Conception (HB 1041) HB 1041 Colorado January 7, 2015 Failed to Pass
South Dakota ‘Preborn Infant Beheading Ban’ Amended to Personhood Resolution (HB 1230) HB 1230 South Dakota February 17, 2015 Failed to Pass
Hawaii Feticide Bill (HB 1234) HB 1234 Hawaii January 29, 2015 Failed to Pass
Virginia ‘Personhood’ Resolution (HR 214) HR 214 Virginia January 23, 2015 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Personhood Resolution (H 5153) HR 5153 Rhode Island January 21, 2015 Failed to Pass
Michigan Life at Conception Bill (HB 4279) HB 4279 Michigan March 4, 2015 Proposed
Montana ‘Personhood’ Amendment (HB 490) HB 490 Montana February 11, 2011 Failed to Pass
Montana ‘Personhood’ Amendment (HB 425) HB 425 Montana February 6, 2015 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Bill (SF 417) SF 417 Iowa March 5, 2015 Failed to Pass
Florida For Life Act 2015 (SB 1502) S 1502 Florida February 26, 2015 Failed to Pass
Texas ‘Life Begins at Conception’ Guiding Principle (SB 1870) SB 1870 Texas March 13, 2015 Failed to Pass
Texas Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing Right to Life (HJR 126) HJR 126 Texas March 12, 2015 Failed to Pass
Texas Bill Regarding Wrongful Birth Lawsuits (HB 3008) HB 3008 Texas March 11, 2015 Failed to Pass
Iowa Bill Defining ‘Person’ for Criminal Statutes (SF 478) SF 478 Iowa March 19, 2015 Failed to Pass
Texas ‘Unborn Child Due Process Act’ (HB 1901) HB 1901 Texas March 11, 2015 Failed to Pass
Texas Bill Regarding ‘Life at Conception’ in Sex Education (HB 1218) HB 1218 Texas Failed to Pass
Colorado Fetal Homicide Bill (SB 268) SB 268 Colorado April 14, 2015 Failed to Pass
Alabama Pregnancy Criminalization Law (SB 26) SB 26 Alabama August 3, 2015 Failed to Pass
New York Unborn Victims of Violence Act (S 1950) S 1950 New York January 9, 2013 Failed to Pass
Massachusetts Fetal Pain Bill (H 1930) H 1930 Massachusetts January 22, 2013 Failed to Pass
New York Unborn Victims of Violence Act (A 3128) A 3128 New York October 23, 2013 Failed to Pass
Utah Vital Statistics Act Amendments (HB 387) HB 387 Utah March 1, 2013 Current
Sanctity of Human Life Act 2015 (HR 426) HR 426 Federal January 21, 2015 Proposed
Rhode Island Fetal Protection Act (H 7052) H 7052 Rhode Island January 9, 2014 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Fetal Protection Act (H 5104) H 5104 Rhode Island January 16, 2013 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Personhood Resolution (H 7330) H 7330 Rhode Island February 6, 2014 Failed to Pass
Missouri ‘All Lives Matter Act’ (HB 1794) HB 1794 Missouri January 7, 2016 Failed to Pass
Virginia Bill Redefining the Term ‘Child’ (HB 556) HB 556 Virginia January 11, 2016 Failed to Pass
The Life at Conception Act of 2016 (S 2464) S 2464 Federal January 21, 2016 Proposed
Colorado Bill Regarding the Protection of Human Life at Conception (HB 1113) HB 1113 Colorado January 20, 2016 Failed to Pass
Colorado Offenses Against ‘Unborn Children’ Bill (HB 1007) HB 1007 Colorado January 13, 2016 Failed to Pass
Virginia Personhood Resolution (HR 19) HR 19 Virginia December 8, 2015 Failed to Pass
Virginia Personhood Joint Resolution (HJR 29) HJR 29 Virginia December 8, 2015 Failed to Pass
Iowa Joint Resolution Denying Right to Abortion (SJR 2001) SJR 2001 Iowa January 21, 2016 Failed to Pass
Alabama ‘Personhood’ Bill 2016 (HB 300) HB 300 Alabama February 24, 2016 Failed to Pass
Mississippi ‘Personhood’ Bill (HB 1106) HB 1106 Mississippi February 8, 2016 Failed to Pass
Missouri Bill Regarding Custody of In Vitro Human Embryos (SB 1129) SB 1129 Missouri March 1, 2016 Failed to Pass
Missouri Bill Regarding Custody of In Vitro Human Embryos (HB 2558) HB 2558 Missouri February 16, 2016 Failed to Pass
Missouri ‘Personhood’ Resolution (HJR 98) HJR 98 Missouri February 23, 2016 Failed to Pass
Missouri ‘Personhood’ Resolution (HCR 121) HCR 121 Missouri March 15, 2016 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island ‘Personhood’ Resolution (H 7170) H 7170 Rhode Island January 14, 2016 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Fetal Protection Act (H 7206) H 7206 Rhode Island January 15, 2016 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Fetal Protection Act (S 2218) S 2218 Rhode Island January 27, 2016 Failed to Pass
Maryland Life ‘Personhood’ Joint Resolution (HJ 7) HJ 7 Maryland February 12, 2016 Failed to Pass