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Perils of ‘Personhood’

Dr. Dana Stone February 15th, 2012

Raise your hand if you want state government to decide what birth control method you can use, what type of fertility treatments are available to you, or how to make medical decisions involving a life-threatening pregnancy complication.

If your hand is in the air, you are in luck. An Oklahoma state Senate committee last week passed Senate Bill 1433, “The Personhood Act,” as its first step toward becoming law. This measure states that life begins at conception, so a single-cell fertilized egg has “all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state.”

A Colorado-based organization, Personhood USA, is promoting this type of legislation throughout the U.S. Voters in Colorado and Mississippi, including pro-life voters, have rejected it because of the unintended consequences and the many questions it raises — and leaves to future legislatures or courts to answer.

Almost all families choose to use birth control at times. Women and babies are healthier when pregnancies are planned and spaced. Birth control pills, other hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine devices (IUDs) prevent pregnancy by blocking ovulation or fertilization. A theoretical mechanism may block implantation of a fertilized egg, but this cannot be proven by any test. People who promote “personhood” believe that birth control pills and other contraceptives cause very early miscarriage, and therefore most birth control would be banned under this legislation.

Infertility affects at least 10 percent of couples. Many can achieve their dream of having a family only by using in vitro fertilization (IVF). Because IVF means that fertilization and early growth of embryos occur in the laboratory, many embryos do not survive. Because it is not safe to return too many embryos to the uterus at once, many embryos are stored for possible future attempts at pregnancy. Personhood laws potentially criminalize the natural loss of these newly designated “persons,” and would take away the rights of parents to control the fate of their embryos. Because of these threats, doctors would not be able to offer IVF to families in Oklahoma.

Pregnancy comes with many hazards to embryos and pregnant women. Some pregnancies implant outside the uterus and can never become viable infants, but can lead to the mother’s death by internal bleeding. Molar pregnancies do not result in live births, but can threaten a woman’s life and health. Rarely a healthy, early pregnancy can be life-threatening to the mother due to a medical condition, and pregnancy termination is recommended to save her life. Some traumatized women choose pregnancy terminations after rape or incest.

These are all complex medical decisions that are now made by women, their families, their physicians and their clergy. The Personhood Act would give this decision to state government and courts.

Government should not make these decisions for families. The Personhood Act is intended to prevent abortion, but it goes too far and will have too many unforeseen consequences.

Stone is an Oklahoma City obstetrician/gynecologist.

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02.16.2012 at 07:27 Reply

I see the political direction in this state and country moving in a direction which basically tells women "you're here for procreation, and nothing else."  

How regressive.

Why is it that the state can pass a law basically nullifying Roe V. Wade which is a federal law?  Don't federal laws superceed state laws?  Isn't this why the federal government can still crackdown on California shops which sell medical marijuana?

Also, if legislation can be passed which nullifies Supreme Court rulings, are we prepared to cease this opportunity and overturn the Citizens United ruling?  I mean, what's good for the Goose is good for the Gander, right?


02.17.2012 at 07:39 Reply

The strange part is, most of the support for this bill comes from lawmakers that espouse an aversion to intrusive government into the personal and economic lives of the individual.  Any proponent of small government, individual liberty, and personal responsibility should re-examine the complexities of this issue.  One legitimate role of government is to protect private property and to protect life, including life of the unborn. But in consideration of the complexities of early pregnancy, it is absolutely consistent with a limited government philosophy to devolve power over these decisions to the individual, their families, doctors, and their churches.