Today’s post brought to you by the letter J


Or rather, by my friend J.

You see, J and I share some pretty similar views on the right of women to bodily autonomy and on reproductive rights in general. One day, she decided to write down some of these thoughts, specifically ones related to the personhood bills that are cropping up like weeds all around the country. She said it so eloquently I thought I’d share it here, with a few edits and additions of my own, including some info on international human rights law. Hope you enjoy it!  

Here’s where what you believe meets what actually is.  The Constitution recognizes three basic rights: life, liberty, and property.  In order to avail yourself of any of these rights, you must be a person.  “Person” is not used in it coloquial sense, but in a legal sense.  So the issue of whether a fetus is a “life” or whether it is a person is irrelevant. The real issue is whether it is a person.  If it is a person, then it has a right to life.  If it is not a person, it has no constitutional rights at all.*  The woman is a person. There is no issue with that.  It is not a matter of debate.  So she has certain liberty interests that are constitutionally protected.  One of those is privacy: the right to be left alone. The issues of abortion, pregnancy, and family are private matters which the woman is entitled to control and safeguard against government interference.  So what you have right now is a situation where a non-person would have greater rights than a person.  At a moral level, this may not bother you.  You may be thinking, great, all we have to do is assign fetuses “personhood” status and then they have a right to life and we’re good.

Only we’re not good.  There are major major problems with defining a fetus as a person, specifically because it would entitle a fetus to Constitutional rights.  Some of those problems include the government suddenly having the ability to control everything about a pregnant woman’s life from her diet to her workout schedule specifically because the fetus now has liberty and life rights.  The slippery slope there is too great.  Every study that came out saying that mothers who watched TV while pregnant had a higher incidence of miscarriage would potentially result in government intervention in the TV-watching habits of pregnant women – you know, because they have to protect the person that is the fetus.

This is why, regardless of whether you find abortion morally or religiously offensive, you cannot legislate on it.  This is where we get back our oft-repeated statement: you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.  Because the minute the government steps in and starts legislating on the thing, the personhood status of women who are already here, already independent human entities, has to be eroded.  You cannot have both women and fetuses be considered persons.  It is a legal impossibility.

So if the “right to life” movement wants to end abortion, they’re going to have to focus on alternative ways, which, incidentally, makes more sense given that prohibitions on abortion are notoriously ineffective in reducing the incidence of terminated pregnancy.

That’s it, that’s the abortion issue in a nutshell.  All this other crap about people accepting responsibility for their actions, taking advantage of the abortion “faucet”, respecting life, or whatever your emotional argument is, that’s all completely irrelevant.  It gets you nowhere.  Unless your purpose is to blame women for pregnancy in an effort to imply they are not really entitled to personhood status.

/looking at you Pat Robertson.

* Note on international human rights, rather than US Constitutional rights, here:

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a fundamental statement of inalienability: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Particularly important here is that the word “born” was used INTENTIONALLY to exclude the fetus or any antenatal application of human rights. During the drafting of the UDHR, an amendment was proposed and rejected that would have deleted the word “born.” Arguments for the amendment were, in part, based on a desire to protect the right to life from the moment of conception.  During negotiations, the representative from France explained that the statement, “All human beings are born free and equal…” meant that the right to freedom and equality was “inherent from the moment of birth.” Article one was adopted with its current language with 45 votes and 9 abstentions. Therefore, a Z/E/F has no rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political rights also rejects the idea that the rights to life, enshrined in Article 6(1), applies prior to birth. The history of the negotiations indicates that, again, an amendment was proposed and rejected that sated: “the right to life is inherent in the human person from the moment of conception, this right shall be protected by law.” The Commission voted to adopt Article 6 with no reference to conception by a vote of 55 to 0, with 17 abstentions.

Further, both the negotiations and the interpretation by the expert treaty body of the Convention on the Rights of the Child make clear that that the treaty does not recognize the right to life until birth. Though anti-choice activists have often relied on Paragraph 9 of the preamble – “Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, ‘the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth – to claim fetal rights, this is an erroneous argument. As originally drafted, the Preamble did not contact reference to protection “before as well as after birth.” The Holy See led the proposal to add this phrase, while stating that “the purpose of the amendment was not to preclude the possibility of an abortion.”  Though the words were included, their limited purpose was reinforced by the statement that, “the Working Group does not intend to prejudice the interpretation of Article 1 or any other provision of the Convention by States Parties,” which is a reference to the definition of “a child.” Article 1 states, “For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of 18 years…,” which, consistent with the UDHR, refers only to born persons.



3 thoughts on “Today’s post brought to you by the letter J

  1. Kathleen Scarlett O'Hara Naylor

    “There are major major problems with defining a fetus as a person, specifically because it would entitle a fetus to Constitutional rights. Some of those problems include the government suddenly having the ability to control everything about a pregnant woman's life from her diet to her workout schedule specifically because the fetus now has liberty and life rights.”

    I've heard similar arguments before, and I don't understand where they're coming from. The government doesn't get to control the vast majority of the life of a person, and why would that be different for a fetus? A two-year-old has the right to life and liberty, and that doesn't mean that the government can stop his mother from letting him eat Twinkies because they're not good for him, anymore than it would mean that the gov't could stop a pregnant woman from eating Twinkies because they're not good for her unborn child.

  2. Heather

    Sorry for the late response, but check out my updated post on this topic, as well as the comments to it to see examples of the government ALREADY interfering with women's rights during pregnancy.

  3. Pingback: On Personhood, A Follow-Up to J’s Post | Antigone Awakens

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