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

Over the next several months, RH Reality Check 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 RHRC 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.

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.


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  • clydweb

    What I can’t figure out is whether or not they are woefully ignorant of the consequences of granting personhood to fetuses or if they actually intend to take away all pregnant women’s rights.

    the idea of a appointing lawyers for the fetus is just chilling…

  • invalid-0


  • invalid-0

    Fetal Development
    Ironically, it has been after the legalization of abortion in America that science has made its greatest progress in understanding the unborn child. With that understanding have come such realities as fetal surgery, which began in the ’80’s.
    There is no question about when human life begins.

    The widely used medical textbook The Developing Human, Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th Edition, Moore, Persaud, Saunders, 1998, states at page 2 that “The intricate processes by which a baby develops from a single cell are miraculous …. This cell [the zygote] results from the union of an oocyte [egg] and sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being ….” At page 18 this theme is repeated: “Human development begins at fertilization [emphasis in original] ….”

    Judge Michael J. Noonan ruled as follows in a New Jersey case based on a man’s efforts to save his unborn child from being aborted: “…based upon the undisputed medical testimony by arguably the foremost authority in genetics in the world, I found that human life begins as conception; and that Roe vs. Wade permits a legal execution of that human being.” (MUNICIPAL COURT OF NEW JERSEY LAW DIVISION – MORRIS COUNTY CRIMINAL ACTION DOCKET NO. C1771, ET SEQ. STATE OF NEW JERSEY V. ALEXANDER LOCE, et als. DEFENDANTS APRIL 29, 1991 HONORABLE MICHAEL J. NOONAN)

    Dr. Jerome Lejeune, “Father of Modern Genetics” and discoverer of the cause of Down’s Syndrome, stated, “To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion . . . it is plain experimental evidence.”

    Dr. Hymie Gordon, Chairman, Department of Genetics at Mayo Clinic, stated, “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.”

    Sir William Liley, a key pioneer of fetal therapy, wrote a famous article in 1972, The Foetus as a Personality, in which he shows us why we have moved away from the view of the fetus as an inert, unformed passenger awaiting arrival at the destination of life, and have seen that the fetus is a splendidly functioning human, full of vigor and very much in command of the pregnancy.

    Men and women of science might often approve of abortion, but that is a judgment about the value of human life, not about the scientific fact that human life exists. We present to you below some of the visual evidence that, indeed, we have a brother, a sister, in the womb.

    Click here for pictures of the developing baby.

    Click below to listen to the heartbeat of an unborn child.

    (All ages noted here are LMP; therefore the baby’s age from fertilization is actually two weeks younger than the number. These heart tones were recorded through a Doppler speaker by Dr. David M. Ramsey, III.)

    Heartbeat at:

    9.5 weeks: [RealAudio] [MP3 Format: Listen or Download]

    11.5 weeks: [RealAudio] [MP3 Format: Listen or Download]

    15 weeks: [RealAudio] [MP3 Format: Listen or Download]

    26 weeks: [RealAudio] [MP3 Format: Listen or Download]

    32 weeks: [RealAudio] [MP3 Format: Listen or Download]

    Click here for pictures of aborted babies.Diary of an Unborn Child
    “Ultrasound on the Web”
    Ultrasound on the Web:

    One of the reasons abortion continues is that the victims are largely unseen.

    Yet in our day, they have become more visible than ever before, thanks to a wide variety of imaging techniques that allow us not only to view, but also to diagnose and operate on the unborn child.

    Ultrasound is one of those imaging techniques. Following are some links that will help you to understand this technique. (a comprehensive guide to obstetric ultrasound) (3D ultrasound)

    Siemens Medical Systems

    12-week old baby girl

    Soundwave Images (Shari Richard)

    For those who support the so-called “right to choose,” a key question is whether or not they are willing to let the woman see what she is choosing to destroy.

    Note: While these pictures are posted freely on the Web for all to see, they are still the property of the owners, and so it is not OK to copy the pictures without their owner’s permission.

  • invalid-0

    Your logic is absolutely ridiculous. And kudos to you for completely denying or disregarding any of the lived realities of women who “choose” (and I use this term conscious of the fact that choice is a very contested issue) to have abortions. The choice to abort is difficult enough for some women without blatant discrimination against them from people like you.

    Hey, I know, why not educate yourself on some of the current issues regarding abortion that aren’t so incredibly steeped in neocon misogynistic rhetoric. Here, I’ll even help you:

    Fetal Subjects, Feminist Positions–Lynne M. Morgan and Michelle W. Michaels, eds.

    Baby’s First Picture–Lisa M. Mitchell.

    The Woman in the Body–Emily Martin.

    The Making of an Unborn Patient–Monica J. Casper.

    Contested Lives–Faye D. Ginsburg.

  • invalid-0

    That comment was a reply to SUE

  • invalid-0

    “One of the reasons abortion continues is that the victims are largely unseen.”

    Funny how that works.

    Oh, right — because the zygotes, embryos, fetuses, and babies are INSIDE, ATTACHED TO, GROWING FROM, and FULLY DEPENDENT UPON A WOMAN’S BODY.

    Makes it hard to see, unless one considers a woman as nothing more than a “vessel” — a sort of bud vase for this supposedly equal human being to reside within.

  • invalid-0

    So now as soon as a woman’s egg — which all women are BORN with — meets and joins with a sperm, it is entitled to a lawyer to defend any rights that CONFLICT WITH THE MOTHER’s. Tell me what attorney/client privilege means when the lawyer is trying to meet with a clump of living cells or a fetus that cannot live, breathe, beat its heart (once it DEVELOPS one!) or venture an opinion (after birth usually) without the complete cooperation of the mother’s body. Because it is still PART of the mother’s body. Does she put in earplugs so the lawyer can speak privately to her womb for depositions? If the mother should, say, countersue — how does HER lawyer serve notice to her enbryo?

    Why if we are looking at 2 separate lives does the teeny one — who’s never met anyone, never had an independent thought or breath, who’s not yet contributed to the society or left its mark upon this world — have rights that TRUMP the woman’s? Only those who believe the religious concept of Original Sin want to see an embryo have more rights than the woman who is in the process of CREATING it. (And we are talking PHYSICAL creation — because some folks want physical interventions to protect the fetus from actions of the mother it lives inside. Certainly they must ALSO be for stricter laws to protect born women from abusive husbands, rapists, cops armed with tasars and bad attitudes, etc. Cause if they were NOT concerned about the quality of born women and the multitude of abuses we are subject to, they certainly wouldn’t deserve our faith in their compassion towards that unseen, “separate human life” that is completely attached to the inside of the woman’s body.)

  • emma

    Caps lock key get stuck?

  • invalid-0

    I was forced to have an abortion as a teenager. I No pro abortion feminazis were screaming for my rights that day to bear a child. I believe that personhood should be established after implantation. this would give a woman the right to seek EC after unprotected sex or a rape. As far as a womans choices for care during pregnancy and birth, she should be able to choose a midwife and have a homebirth or the traditional OB/Gyn and hospital birth withor without pain meds. No woman should ever be forced to undergo a Csection against her will. The problem is the Medical Indusry and the Abortion Lobby have convinced many women that pregnancy is an illness that must be treated while either running its natural 9 month course or being offered a quick cure by the Abortion Industry. With all of the methods of BC available to women why are we having so many abortions a year. Either the methods are not full proof as Big Pharma would have us to believe or women and especially teenagers choose not use them anyway..

  • invalid-0

    So you think an embryo is a person. Yes, it is a human life in the strictest biological sense of the word, but a person; that is disputable. What is not is no one has the right to the use of another person’s body for their own health or well being. Nor do right-wing extremists have the right to use pregnant women in general as political footballs for the advancement of their personal ideology.

    The right to life from the moment of conception is a morally and ethically bankrupt concept which views women as very cheap. It deserves no respect.

  • invalid-0

    I am very, very sorry to hear that someone forced you to undergo an abortion. That is a horrific trauma and I certainly hope you’ve found support in dealing with it. But please don’t generalize what happened to you to the pro-choice movement. Pro-choice activists are not pro-abortion; we want women to be able to choose to continue wanted pregnancies in the way they wish as well as terminate unwanted pregnancies. We do this through activism around assistance for families and single mothers through government programs like health care and/or insurance, child care subsidies, and cash assistance programs.

    I agree that contraception is problematic in this country, but it’s not the effectiveness rates. The problem lies in lack of education around proper usage and lack of access to begin with.

  • rachel-walden

    I normally try to avoid responding to/encouraging people who type in all caps declarations, but this is just many kinds of wrong. There is an assumption here that people who are pro-choice simply don’t know what a fetus is, which is ridiculous (although it also seems to underlie forced ultrasound laws). Believe me, we know – women probably wouldn’t pony up a few hundred dollars for surgery and the chance to be attacked by a protestor if we were talking about an embryo or fetus as a simple "blob of tissue" that might be passed out simply and privately like a menstrual blood clot (although early miscarriages are often just that). I for one don’t need DNA or fetal anatomy explained to me, because I’m well aware of it. It’s not usually the pro-choice that I find needing an accurate explanation of fetal anatomy or DNA or the scientific method or confidence intervals or otherwise failing at understanding actual science. I just happen to have a general rule that what lives in my body, what takes my own resources to sustain its existence, and what could potentially kill me through its residence or its exit, has to have my permission to stay there. Yeah, there’s DNA, and it’s half mine; the body it’s taking up is all mine.

  • crowepps

    Anybody who assumes that pregnancy is "just a few months of inconvenience" doesn’t know enough about the process of reproduction to be making decisions about other people’s lives.

  • invalid-0

    I guess some people are not really looking at how personhood laws could effect them. Even if you are stauchly anti-choice and would never consider an abortion under any circumstance–imagine that in the brave new world that you want that you have a miscarriage of a very much wanted pregnancy and have complications. You are lying in a hospital bed in pain emotionally and physically and police intrude into your room to start investigations into the possibility that you caused your miscarriage. AFter all, the embryo is considered to have the same rights as any person after birth so they have to decide if you did ANYTHING that might have contributed to the death. First they have to decide if you did it on purpose as in 1st degree murder–maybe they find a witness who overheard you say at a weak moment that you wish you weren’t pregnant right then(and who hasn’t said that at some time in pregnancy?) so they have to find if maybe you had an abortion. Maybe someone saw you smoking a cigarette or eating junk food, or riding a horse so they have to decide if you are guilty of manslaughter. This is a very scary picture to me. No matter what your views on abortion I can’t believe that anyone would want this kind of Orwellian society. Remember that when Hitler first took over he banned abortion and birth control for Aryan women and forced it on “undesirable” women. You conservatives are always saying you don’t trust the government for so many things –surely you don’t trust the government to decide on issues of this importance? I am against the government of any organization making personal decisions for me and my family wether it is birth control/abortion or where I give birth or when, or what kind of treatments I choose for cancer or other illness, or where I go to school or work or ANY other personal decision! AS long as I am not interfering with other peoples decisons to be in control of their own lives then the government needs to stay out of our personal lives!

  • invalid-0

    Your nightmare scenarios about personhood laws are so ridiculous, they amount to left wing ‘death panel’ speculation. Nincompoosps on both right and left, it seems- ha!

  • bobbyg


    “Personhood at conception” would logically require a major rewrite of (or elimination of) the 14th Amendment. Just what our American Taliban would like, though, one assumes.