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Why You Need To Care About Personhood
I don’t even know where to start. So I guess I’ll start with a story.
In March of 1993, Dr. David Gunn, an OB/GYN practicing in Pensacola, FL was shot three times in the back and killed by anti-choice terrorist Michael Griffin. It was said that Griffin was under the sway of a man called John Burt. Burt had claimed to be “spiritual advisor” to a group responsible for bombing several women’s clinics. In 1991, Burt purchased land next to the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services Clinic where Dr. Gunn practiced, and Burt and his followers used this land to raise holy hell without violating obstruction laws. Burt was known to carry a jar containing “Baby Charlie” which he claimed was an aborted four-month-old fetus.
Griffin, after fatally wounding Dr. Gunn, gave himself up to police who were called to respond, not to a shooting, but to a protest on clinic grounds. It has been reported that after stalking Dr. Gunn, Griffin said, “Don’t kill any more babies,” and then shot Gunn three times at point blank range.
Joe Scarborough first represented Griffin at trial. Yes, THAT Joe Scarborough. He also worked for Griffin’s family, free of charge, supposedly to protect them from the media. Later in 1993, Scarborough turned Griffin’s defense over to another lawyer. After a four hour deliberation, Griffin was found guilty. He is currently serving a life sentence in Okaloosa Correctional Institution.
The murder of Dr. Gunn and the escalating violence surrounding women’s clinics spurred the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act, introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy. While protecting protesters’ First Amendment rights, this act, among other provisions, protects women from being physically barred from entering a clinic.
Burt, for his part, was linked to the murder of another doctor as well as Dr. Gunn. Like Griffin, he had ties to the Ku Klux Klan. (Both men claimed to have left the group due to an incompatibility with Christian doctrine) In 2003, Burt was arrested for molesting a child in his Our Father’s House which was ostensibly a home for runaway girls and unwed mothers. He is currently serving an 18 year sentence. After a civil trial, the Gunn family was able to take possession of the land adjacent to the clinic.
Why am I telling you this? I spent a lot of time in Pensacola and lived there for about four years. When I moved into Pensacola proper, I lived about three blocks from that clinic. They were forced to erect giant privacy fencing and utilize escorts wearing bright yellow vests to get patients in and out of the clinic. Every day I passed protesters. Occasionally I would roll my car windows down and listen to the hate and vitriol spewed at women doing nothing more than going to the doctor.
I also identified with David Gunn, Jr. who is just a few years older than I. I could not imagine what it was like to be in my early 20′s and have lost my father. Especially to have lost him for nothing more than doing his job. My friend and I went to the benefit concert L7 and Pearl Jam played the year after Dr. Gunn’s death. Later we went to a candlelight vigil for Dr. Gunn. I remember being struck at the passion, the eloquence with which David Jr. spoke. I don’t know that I could have been that self-possessed. Scratch that, I know I couldn’t have. I think of him from time to time because he took something so horrible, so disgusting, so personally difficult, and turned it into something positive.
In September, I attended a public hearing in Mississippi about this Initiative 26 that’s on the ballot in November. No, I’m no longer a Mississippi resident, but what happens in Mississippi matters to women everywhere. What happens in Missouri matters to women everywhere. Same with Kansas, Colorado, or Georgia. Once Roe V. Wade became the law of the land, the anti-choice movement realized they were not going to get far bullying women on the national level. They were going to have to work at the state level. And work they have.
The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office has produced informational pamphlets for the three ballot initiatives. Initiative 26 reads as follows:
Ballot Title: Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?
Ballot Summary: Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons,” as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.
What this initiative seeks to do is to give fertilized eggs, zygotes, all the same civil rights you and I have. An embryo would be a person. A cluster of cells would be a person. Now, people like lobbyist Brad Prewitt, Executive Director of the Yes on 26 Campaign Coalition, say that there is no doubt when life starts. It starts at fertilization. And they want to argue that point a lot. Personally, I’m not going to argue with him. If you have cells dividing, that’s a life of some sort. In his argument for 26, he states that the Supreme Court noted if “personhood” of the embryo were established, the abortion rights case would collapse. So in a Hail Mary political move, anti-choice zealots have decided to twist both science and the Constitution and call a fertilized egg a person. A sentient being.
Let’s say that you are against a woman’s right to choose. On the surface, this sounds like a great amendment, right? No more abortion in the state. It goes further than that. Say goodbye to your IUD. Say goodbye to the birth control pill. Say goodbye to in vitro fertilization (IVF). In fact, you might as well say goodbye to reproduction. What doctor—or more to the point, what doctor’s malpractice insurance—is going to want to treat a pregnancy with a chance of miscarriage? If you miscarry, and 26 has amended what it means to be a person, you’ve just murdered someone. Is your doctor just as responsible as you are for this murder? Did your doctor not stress all the things that could cause miscarriage? Maybe she should have put you on bed rest for nine months with a feeding tube and a catheter? That way you wouldn’t have to stress yourself getting up and down.
Sound ridiculous? How is that more ridiculous than calling a clump of cells a person?
Anything that interferes with an egg’s implantation into the uterus would be criminalized as an abortifacient. Mirena, for example, would be criminalized because it thins the lining of the uterus to interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg. While the main way in which hormonal birth control works is by preventing an egg from being fertilized, there are other mechanisms. Cervical mucus is thickened as a natural defense against sperm reaching the egg. It also thins the lining of the uterus. This is the reason birth control pills and the new generation of IUDs are prescribed for women with heavy periods and debilitating cramps. A thinner lining of the uterus means less to pass during a woman’s period. Personhood would take that option away from you. I’m sure it’s no biggie for you to skip a few days of work every month. Oh, I know. You can take some heavy narcotics for the pain! I’m sure that wouldn’t interfere with your work at all. Especially if you were like a nurse or something. No biggie. Just eat more red meat to keep your iron level up.
If you are a woman who has taken her sexual health very seriously by using condoms to prevent both pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted disease, you’re not safe either. Personhood would make the “morning after pill” illegal. So if the condom broke, oh well. You shouldn’t have been slutting around in the first place. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble carrying that fetus to term and then giving the baby up for adoption.
Personhood Colorado has said the great thing about personhood is that, “it will make sure that children in the womb are treated exactly the same as children outside the womb.” I assume that means they just want to ignore the fetus as much as they ignore the poor child of an unplanned pregnancy. At the Mississippi Secretary of State’s public hearing on personhood, I learned from Mr. Prewitt there are orphanages all over the place. Just drop that baby off at one of those.
The personhood movement is one more way anti-choice zealots want the government to regulate what goes on in your home. And, yeah, I’ll go here: It’s another way men say to women, we know what’s better for you than you do.The anti-choice movement says it’s against big government. And it is. As the saying goes, they want government small enough to fit in my uterus.
Personhood proponents say that people like me have a “Chicken Little” mentality. I won’t disagree with that, actually. If that’s what they want to call concern about my reproductive freedoms, I’ll give them that one. My whole life I’ve watched my government—local and federal—turn its back on women’s health issues. So when a bunch of men decide they know what’s better for my family than I do, I start getting a little concerned. (No woman spoke in favor of 26 at the hearing I attended)
I don’t know people who are truly for abortion. I know people who want the right to make the choice to do what’s best for their families. I AM pro-family. I AM pro-choice. Personhood is strictly pro-fetus. Personhood proponents want to use science to talk about all the theories of the beginning of human life in the womb, but ignore it when it comes to explaining life outside the womb. They want to talk about the wonderful gift of life God has given us, but then ignore the gift of reason, of consciousness, of though that make us more than the sum of our parts. Personhood wants to take life to the ultimate scientific extreme. It says that we are no more than a clump of cells and a beating heart. That is about the most anti-life stance I can think of.
A version of this column first appeared at yeahandanotherthing.wordpress.com.
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