Personhood

This law topic summary was last updated on: January 06, 2017

“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 September 6, 2016)

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.

In 2015, twelve states introduced personhood measures, according to internal calculations, however, none of them passed. Those twelve states are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

Laws

Title Number State Proposed Status
Alabama ‘Personhood’ Bill 2013 (SB 205) SB 205 Alabama Feb 14, 2013 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Amendment (HJR 12) HJR 12 Iowa Mar 6, 2013 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Amendment (SJR 10) SJR 10 Iowa Apr 25, 2013 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Bill (HF 138) HF 138 Iowa Feb 6, 2013 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Bill (HF 171) HF 171 Iowa Feb 7, 2013 Failed to Pass
Mississippi ‘Personhood’ Amendment (HCR 14) HCR 14 Mississippi Jan 11, 2013 Failed to Pass
Mississippi Protection of the Human Person Act (HB 819) HB 819 Mississippi Jan 21, 2013 Failed to Pass
North Dakota ‘Personhood’ Bill (SB 2303) SB 2303 North Dakota Jan 23, 2013 Failed to Pass
North Dakota ‘Personhood’ Amendment (SCR 4009) SCR 4009 North Dakota Jan 23, 2013 Failed to Pass
Oklahoma ‘Personhood’ Act of 2013 (HB 1029) HB 1029 Oklahoma Feb 12, 2013 Failed to Pass
Oklahoma Protection of Human Life Act 2013 (HB 1025) HB 1025 Oklahoma Feb 4, 2013 Failed to Pass
Oklahoma Protection of Human Life Act 2013 (HB 2070) HB 2070 Oklahoma Feb 4, 2013 Failed to Pass
‘Personhood’ Act of South Carolina (H 3323) H 3323 South Carolina Jan 15, 2013 Failed to Pass
‘Personhood’ Act of South Carolina (S 83) S 83 South Carolina Jan 8, 2013 Failed to Pass
‘Personhood’ Act of South Carolina (H 3584) H 3584 South Carolina Feb 21, 2013 Failed to Pass
‘Personhood’ Act of South Carolina (S 457) S 457 South Carolina Feb 28, 2013 Failed to Pass
South Carolina Life Beginning at Conception Act (S 87) S 87 South Carolina Jan 8, 2013 Failed to Pass
Kansas ‘Pro-Life’ Protections Act (HB 2253) HB 2253 Kansas Feb 6, 2013 Current
Washington State Life at Conception Act (HB 1259) HB 1259 Washington Jan 21, 2013 Failed to Pass
Kansas Human Life Amendment (HCR 5010) HCR 5010 Kansas Feb 5, 2013 Failed to Pass
Mississippi ‘Personhood’ Ballot Initiative 41 Initiative 41 Mississippi Mar 5, 2013 Failed to Pass
Sanctity of Human Life Act (2013) HR 23 Federal Jan 3, 2013 Failed to Pass
The Life at Conception Act of 2013 S 583 Federal Mar 14, 2013 Failed to Pass
Georgia ‘Personhood’ Amendment (SR 420) SR 420 Georgia Feb 28, 2013 Failed to Pass
Montana ‘Personhood’ Amendment (LC 1580) LC 1580 Montana Dec 5, 2012 Failed to Pass
Wisconsin Bill Amending Wrongful Death Statute (AB 160) AB 160 Wisconsin Apr 17, 2013 Failed to Pass
Alabama ‘Personhood’ Bill 2014 (SB 414) SB 414 Alabama Feb 26, 2014 Failed to Pass
Arkansas Bill Amending Definition of “Unborn Child” in Wrongful Death Actions (SB 417) SB 417 Arkansas Feb 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 Mar 13, 2013 Failed to Pass
Colorado Abortion Ban (HB 1033) HB 1033 Colorado Jan 9, 2013 Failed to Pass
Colorado Bill Regarding the Protection of Human Life at Conception (HB 1133) HB 1133 Colorado Jan 16, 2014 Failed to Pass
Colorado Bill Regarding Civil Damages for Unlawful Termination of Pregnancy (HB 1324) HB 1324 Colorado Mar 19, 2014 Failed to Pass
Colorado Civil Damages for the Unlawful Termination of a Pregnancy (HB 1388) HB 1388 Colorado Apr 21, 2014 Current
Kansas Bill Prohibiting Civil Action Lawsuits Concerning Abortion Consultation (SB 142) SB 142 Kansas Feb 7, 2013 Current
Illinois Bill Regarding Vital Records – Stillbirth (HB 960) HB 960 Illinois Jan 24, 2013 Failed to Pass
South Carolina “Personhood” Act (S 129) S 129 South Carolina Dec 3, 2014 Failed to Pass
New Hampshire All People Created Equal Act 2014 (HB 1504) HB 1504 New Hampshire Mar 25, 2014 Failed to Pass
New Hampshire All People Created Equal Act 2015 (HB 194) HB 194 New Hampshire Jan 8, 2015 Proposed
Mississippi ‘Personhood’ Bill (HB 1309) HB 1309 Mississippi Jan 19, 2015 Failed to Pass
Alaska Bill Regarding Wrongful Death of an Unborn Child – Jackson’s Law (SB 200) SB 200 Alaska Feb 24, 2014 Current
Alaska Bill Regarding Wrongful Death of an Unborn Child – Jackson’s Law (HB 258) HB 258 Alaska Jan 21, 2014 Failed to Pass
Washington Life at Conception Act (HB 1687) HB 1687 Washington Jan 26, 2015 Failed to Pass
Colorado Bill Regarding the Protection of Human Life At Conception (HB 1041) HB 1041 Colorado Jan 7, 2015 Failed to Pass
South Dakota ‘Preborn Infant Beheading Ban’ Amended to Personhood Resolution (HB 1230) HB 1230 South Dakota Feb 17, 2015 Failed to Pass
Hawaii Feticide Bill (HB 1234) HB 1234 Hawaii Jan 29, 2015 Failed to Pass
Virginia ‘Personhood’ Resolution (HR 214) HR 214 Virginia Jan 23, 2015 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Personhood Resolution (H 5153) HR 5153 Rhode Island Jan 21, 2015 Failed to Pass
Michigan Life at Conception Bill (HB 4279) HB 4279 Michigan Mar 4, 2015 Proposed
Montana ‘Personhood’ Amendment (HB 490) HB 490 Montana Feb 11, 2011 Failed to Pass
Montana ‘Personhood’ Amendment (HB 425) HB 425 Montana Feb 6, 2015 Failed to Pass
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Bill (SF 417) SF 417 Iowa Mar 5, 2015 Failed to Pass
Florida For Life Act 2015 (SB 1502) S 1502 Florida Feb 26, 2015 Failed to Pass
Texas ‘Life Begins at Conception’ Guiding Principle (SB 1870) SB 1870 Texas Mar 13, 2015 Failed to Pass
Texas Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing Right to Life (HJR 126) HJR 126 Texas Mar 12, 2015 Failed to Pass
Texas Bill Regarding Wrongful Birth Lawsuits (HB 3008) HB 3008 Texas Mar 11, 2015 Failed to Pass
Iowa Bill Defining ‘Person’ for Criminal Statutes (SF 478) SF 478 Iowa Mar 19, 2015 Failed to Pass
Texas ‘Unborn Child Due Process Act’ (HB 1901) HB 1901 Texas Mar 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 Apr 14, 2015 Failed to Pass
Alabama Pregnancy Criminalization Law (SB 26) SB 26 Alabama Aug 3, 2015 Failed to Pass
New York Unborn Victims of Violence Act (S 1950) S 1950 New York Jan 9, 2013 Failed to Pass
Massachusetts Fetal Pain Bill (H 1930) H 1930 Massachusetts Jan 22, 2013 Failed to Pass
New York Unborn Victims of Violence Act (A 3128) A 3128 New York Oct 23, 2013 Failed to Pass
Utah Vital Statistics Act Amendments (HB 387) HB 387 Utah Mar 1, 2013 Current
Sanctity of Human Life Act 2015 (HR 426) HR 426 Federal Jan 21, 2015 Proposed
Rhode Island Fetal Protection Act (H 7052) H 7052 Rhode Island Jan 9, 2014 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Fetal Protection Act (H 5104) H 5104 Rhode Island Jan 16, 2013 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Personhood Resolution (H 7330) H 7330 Rhode Island Feb 6, 2014 Failed to Pass
Missouri ‘All Lives Matter Act’ (HB 1794) HB 1794 Missouri Jan 7, 2016 Failed to Pass
Virginia Bill Redefining the Term ‘Child’ (HB 556) HB 556 Virginia Jan 11, 2016 Failed to Pass
The Life at Conception Act of 2016 (S 2464) S 2464 Federal Jan 21, 2016 Proposed
Colorado Bill Regarding the Protection of Human Life at Conception (HB 1113) HB 1113 Colorado Jan 20, 2016 Failed to Pass
Colorado Offenses Against ‘Unborn Children’ Bill (HB 1007) HB 1007 Colorado Jan 13, 2016 Failed to Pass
Virginia Personhood Resolution (HR 19) HR 19 Virginia Dec 8, 2015 Failed to Pass
Virginia Personhood Joint Resolution (HJR 29) HJR 29 Virginia Dec 8, 2015 Failed to Pass
Iowa Joint Resolution Denying Right to Abortion (SJR 2001) SJR 2001 Iowa Jan 21, 2016 Failed to Pass
Alabama ‘Personhood’ Bill 2016 (HB 300) HB 300 Alabama Feb 24, 2016 Failed to Pass
Mississippi ‘Personhood’ Bill (HB 1106) HB 1106 Mississippi Feb 8, 2016 Failed to Pass
Missouri Bill Regarding Custody of In Vitro Human Embryos (SB 1129) SB 1129 Missouri Mar 1, 2016 Failed to Pass
Missouri Bill Regarding Custody of In Vitro Human Embryos (HB 2558) HB 2558 Missouri Feb 16, 2016 Failed to Pass
Missouri ‘Personhood’ Resolution (HJR 98) HJR 98 Missouri Feb 23, 2016 Failed to Pass
Missouri ‘Personhood’ Resolution (HCR 121) HCR 121 Missouri Mar 15, 2016 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island ‘Personhood’ Resolution (H 7170) H 7170 Rhode Island Jan 14, 2016 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Fetal Protection Act (H 7206) H 7206 Rhode Island Jan 15, 2016 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Fetal Protection Act (S 2218) S 2218 Rhode Island Jan 27, 2016 Failed to Pass
Maryland Life ‘Personhood’ Joint Resolution (HJ 7) HJ 7 Maryland Feb 12, 2016 Failed to Pass
Virginia ‘Day of Tears’ Bill (HR 268) HR 268 Virginia Jan 18, 2017 Current
Texas Constitutional Amendment Proposal Guaranteeing Right to Life (SJR 9) SJR 9 Texas Nov 14, 2016 Proposed
Virginia ‘Personhood’ Resolution (HJR 589) HJR 589 Virginia Jan 4, 2017 Failed to Pass
Missouri Personhood Constitutional Amendment (HJR 18) HJR 18 Missouri Jan 5, 2017 Failed to Pass
Indiana ‘Protection of Life’ Bill (HB 1134) HB 1134 Indiana Jan 9, 2017 Failed to Pass
Arkansas Bill Regarding Fetal Death Certificates (HB 1185) HB 1185 Arkansas Jan 17, 2017 Signed into Law
Washington Life at Conception Act (HB 1649) HB 1649 Washington Jan 25, 2017 Proposed
Missouri Bill Regarding Custody of In Vitro Human Embryos (HB 112) HB 112 Missouri Jan 4, 2017 Failed to Pass
South Carolina ‘Personhood’ Act (H 3530) H 3530 South Carolina Jan 19, 2017 Proposed
Oklahoma Bill Requiring Death Certificates for Aborted Fetuses (SB 755) SB 755 Oklahoma Feb 6, 2017 Proposed
Texas ‘Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act’ (HB 948) HB 948 Texas Jan 11, 2017 Proposed
Oklahoma Resolution Recognizing Rose Day 2017 (HR 1001) HR 1001 Oklahoma Feb 6, 2017 Proposed
Oklahoma Bill Prohibiting Abortion After Conception (SB 817) SB 817 Oklahoma Feb 6, 2017 Proposed
Oklahoma Resolution Regarding the Authority of Public Officials and Abortion Law (HR 1004) HR 1004 Oklahoma Feb 13, 2017 Proposed
Rhode Island Personhood Resolution (H 5399) H 5399 Rhode Island Feb 3, 2017 Failed to Pass
Rhode Island Fetal Protection Act (H 5447) H 5447 Rhode Island Feb 9, 2017 Failed to Pass
Tennessee Sanctity of Human Life Act (SB 754) SB 754 Tennessee Feb 9, 2017 Proposed
Tennessee Sanctity of Human Life Act (HB 895) HB 895 Tennessee Feb 8, 2017 Proposed
Texas Bill Regarding Fetal Remains (SB 406) SB 406 Texas Dec 29, 2016 Proposed
New York ‘Unborn Victims of Violence Act’ (A 3579) A 3579 New York Jan 27, 2017 Failed to Pass
Alabama Bill Proposing ‘Right to Life’ Constitutional Amendment (HB 98) HB 98 Alabama Feb 7, 2017 Scheduled for Ballot
Kansas Resolution Regarding Constitutional Human Life Amendments (HCR 5009) HCR 5009 Kansas Feb 3, 2017 Proposed
Arizona Bill Regarding Born-Alive Reporting (SB 1367) SB 1367 Arizona Jan 31, 2017 Signed into Law
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Bill (SF 253) SF 253 Iowa Feb 14, 2017 Proposed
Iowa ‘Personhood’ Bill (HF 297) HF 297 Iowa Feb 14, 2017 Proposed
West Virginia ‘Life Begins at Conception’ Amendment (HJR 19) HJR 19 West Virginia Feb 21, 2017 Proposed
North Carolina ‘Right to Life at Conception Act’ (HB 163) HB 163 North Carolina Feb 21, 2017 Proposed
Texas Bill Requiring Fetal Death Certificates (HB 2349) HB 2349 Texas Feb 23, 2017 Proposed
Texas Bill Regarding Fetal Remains (HB 2348) HB 2348 Texas Feb 23, 2017 Proposed
Texas Life at Conception Constitutional Amendment (HJR 123) HJR 123 Texas Mar 10, 2017 Proposed
Texas Life at Conception Constitutional Amendment (HJR 122) HJR 122 Texas Mar 10, 2017 Proposed
Texas “Life at Conception Provision of the Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights” (HJR 121) HJR 121 Texas Mar 10, 2017 Proposed
Massachusetts Fetal Pain Bill (H 2288) H 2288 Massachusetts Jan 23, 2017 Proposed
Kansas Proposition for Constitutional Personhood Amendment (SCR 1607) SCR 1607 Kansas Apr 5, 2017 Proposed
Texas Resolution Urging the United States Congress to Prohibit Abortion (HJR 104) HJR 104 Texas Mar 8, 2017 Proposed
South Carolina ‘Personhood’ Act (S 217) S 217 South Carolina Jan 10, 2017 Proposed
Alaska Life at Conception Act (HB 250) HB 250 Alaska May 15, 2017 Proposed
Michigan Personhood Sentencing Guidelines (HB 4500) HB 4500 Michigan Apr 20, 2017 Proposed
Missouri ‘Right to Life Act’ (HB 14) HB 14 Missouri Jun 12, 2017 Proposed
Texas Life at Conception Constitutional Amendment (HJR 49) HJR 49 Texas Jul 28, 2017 Proposed