Personhood – Be Careful What You Wish For

Personhood” is the popular name for the principle that each zygote is seen by the law as a full human being and entitled to all rights of any other citizen of the United States from the moment of fertilization. Those who are pushing the idea of ‘personhood,’ are doing it solely as a round-about way to stop Constitutionally legal abortion as well as most forms of contraception.  It is the most recent ploy of the religious zealots in their war against women and sex.

The only rationale that makes the just-fertilized zygote a human being is a religious concept – that some supernatural ski-god imbues the zygote with a supernatural add-on they call a ‘soul.’ This is something nobody can define or demonstrate the existence of.  Law, medicine, and human biology have never recognized or detected the existence of a ‘soul.’  It is purely magical thinking by believers in the supernatural sky-god.  If they want to claim that a zygote (or a fetus at ANY stage) is ‘ensouled,’  (and that this ensoulment entitles the zygote or fetus to any specific ‘sanctity of life‘) it is up to them as the claimants to offer proof – not to disbelievers to have to prove a soul doesn’t exist.  It’s no different than if you believe in the Tooth Fairy, leprechauns, Tinkerbell, invisible six-foot-tall rabbits, demons, faeries, ghosts, aliens, djinn, or Bertrand Russell’s famous example of the orbiting celestial teapot.  If you want your claim of any of these to be accepted by the outside world, it is your responsibility to put up the proof. And, if there is one thing that YHWH, Jehovah, Allah, Zeus, Krishna, Odin, and hundreds of other gods who do now, or did at one time, have legions of fervent believers have in common is that the degree of proof for each of their divinity is NONE.

The idea that a legal statute based on this supernatural religious/superstitious argument is being seriously proposed by a political party in a secular democracy is insane, not to mention a likely fatal corruption of the Constitution and the secular republic our forefathers tried, and, perhaps, almost succeeded in pulling off.

But, should the 2012 election go to the GOP and a Personhood bill is passed and signed into law, the Christian Taliban will find out that the full implications of the law are much wider than merely advancing their war against women and sex.

Consider what happens if a three-month-old child is found dead in her crib.  Since she didn’t die in a hospital or with a doctor present, the law requires that a coroner perform an autopsy to determine if the death was from natural causes, parental neglect, or intentional abuse.  The parents are forever suspect if it can’t be determined that the death was from natural causes, and almost sure to face minor or major criminal charges if it can be established that ANYTHING in their treatment of the child contributed to the death.

If you extend the same legal protections all the way back to fertilization, how should the law handle a miscarriage? It will now be, by law, no different than the dead infant in the crib.

A fetus and a pregnant woman present a unique situation to the legal system.  The fetus is totally dependent on the womb, placenta, and the woman’s internal systems to provide oxygen, nutrition, circulation, and so on for the greater part of the pregnancy. This is a dependency that is one of a parasite to it’s host, not one of symbiosis.  The fetus must ‘feed’ off of the woman, but offers nothing in return. That relationship does not exist after the umbilical cord is cut and the newborn, now living separate from the mother, becomes what, in British Common Law is referred to as in rerum natura” (a life in being).   U.S. Statutory Law is primarily based on British Common Law, and has always treated the fetus as something other than a full human being. So, any attempt to extend laws meant for human beings in rerum natura back into the womb will be sure to have many, many unanticipated consequences.

There is almost never a body to autopsy, so, would the police and the DA’s office be empowered, even required, to interrogate the woman who miscarried and investigate her life style to see if any of her behavior might have contributed to her miscarriage?  Did she smoke cigarettes?  Have an occasional drink? Was she an alcoholic?  Taking prescription medicines? Using illicit drugs?  Did she eat the maximally healthy diet, or did she slip below the optimum for fetal nourishment (a malnourished 3-year-old is considered by most to be a victim of child abuse)?  Go out on an icy morning and slip and fall, when the fetus might have been safer if she stayed in on wet or icy days? Slip and fall in the shower when a bath would have been less risky?  What about questions of how many months into her pregnancy she worked, either in the home, or in an outside job?  What about her sexual experiences with her husband during the pregnancy? Did she continue to walk, jog, or go to the gym too far into her  pregnancy? On the other hand, did she fail to exercise enough and keep in maximum health because of fears of endangering her pregnancy?  Did she endanger the fetus by using a seatbelt?  By not using a seatbelt?  Maybe our burgeoning theocracy will decide the woman failed to pray enough or attend church enough, or, likely, attend the “right” church?

In in-vitro fertilization a number of eggs are harvested and inseminated so that the doctor can continue to implant eggs until one “takes.” Is it now a case of murder for each egg that doesn’t adhere to the womb, or each egg left over when one does?  Since three of Mitt’s five sons have had to rely on in-vitro fertilization to have children, would a personhood law, if in effect at that time, have made each of the three couples and their doctors mass murderers?

How many couples will now remain childless if in-vitro fertilization were made illegal? If you have a child or children as a result of IVF, consider what you are denying future couples with fertility problems.

A Personhood bill would also make most forms of birth control, like ‘the pill,’ intrauterine devices, or ‘Plan B completely illegal. How many unwanted children will be born – or how many fetuses will be secretly and illegally aborted – if most forms of contraception are declared illegal under Personhood?  How many of the women involved will be teenagers, whose entire lives will be changed for the worse by having to carry a fetus to term?  Even putting up the newborn for immediate adoption has shown time and again to create terrible guilt and scars that the teenager will carry for life.

What should be done about a pregnant woman who takes a “vacation” in Mexico, or Canada, Europe, or Scandinavia, and comes back no longer pregnant?   Will those with enough money still be able to get abortions, while only the poor will be unable to terminate a pregnancy – to become State-monitored involuntary breed stock?

If the fetus survives to birth, are there any physical or mental problems that should trigger a similar investigation?  Could physically or mentally disabled baby, when grown, sue her mother for her disabilities?

If, late in her pregnancy (or at any time, for that matter) the pregnant woman is discovered to have a medical condition that would endanger her life to try to carry a fetus to term, should she be forced to risk death? And, if she dies (and moreover, if the baby is stillborn anyway), is creating a grieving young widower trying to raise his other now motherless children, really more “pro-life,” more “life affirming” than aborting a fetus to save an intact family?

Even in the case of births of healthy babies, should there be an investigation into the mother to see if there were any endangerment issues (like might happen if you leave your one-year-old alone in her crib for five minutes while you run across to a neighbor’s house to borrow a cup of flour – even though the child came to no harm during the five minutes of abandonment).  Should every pregnancy be automatically monitored for issues of child abuse?

Do we recalibrate each person’s age by adding 9 months and count legal age by Conception-day, rather than Birthday, like the Chinese do?  Does each person get the right to drive, to drink, to smoke, to vote, to have consensual sex 9 months earlier than they do now? Given the fact that few pregnancies last exactly 39 weeks (273 days) how do we even determine the moment at which a new citizen is created and legal coverage begins?

There are innumerable activities that could be seen by an eager-beaver assistant DA, especially one with an unhealthy dose of religiosity, as grounds to press anything from simple neglect to involuntary manslaughter to first-degree homicide charges.  It would merely be a wide-open discretionary call in every single miscarriage case, or even in every single pregnancy.

Beware of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Once the law is passed, it will be much harder to “put the toothpaste back into the tube than it would if you never took the top off the tube in the first place.”

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