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.