Women have the moral and legal rights to determine what is best for their own emotional and physical health, according to the World Health Organization. These rights are consistent with the human rights all human beings have, rights that include bodily autonomy, rights without which little else matters. Well-meaning doctors, legislators and judges in the United States have violated women’s human rights when they obstruct access to abortion, when they force women to undergo dangerous surgery and when they attempt to pass legislation that meddles with the doctor-patient relationship. Specifically, women’s rights are violated with any consideration of fetal personhood. Let’s recognize who is first in the personhood debate: the woman. Let’s begin with some facts about bodily autonomy.
Consider the woman who dies from severe head trauma in a motorcycle accident. Her driver’s license signifies that she is not an organ donor. Yet, harvesting her organs could give life to several people and it surely wouldn’t hurt her because she’s dead. But as the law reads, the organs remain solely under the purview of the deceased, her bodily integrity intact.
Or consider that people are not required to give blood. They could donate every 56 days, taking only an hour of their time, to save the lives of up to three people. And the personal risk is low. In fact, one hundred percent of the population is not required by law to give even a drop of blood. On a related note, people with very rare blood types are not required to give blood although not giving blood could literally kill someone who was dependent on that donation. Regardless, it is their blood to keep or donate.
Consider that people are not required to participate in an immunization program, even though immunizations are one of the best way to prevent the spread of disease and save the lives of many in our communities. Even though, immunizations have a very low risk to the individual, no human is required by law to be subjected to the invasive needles required for immunizations.
Or consider the teenage girl badly injured in a horse riding accident who now needs a kidney transplant. No one in her family—not her mother, aunt, father or cousin—is required to give this teen a kidney. Each family member has a choice because the law of land dictates that each person has control over his or her own body. A young teen’s eventual demise without someone’s kidney does not change this fact. And all the above are examples of bodily autonomy that humans in the United States should enjoy, unless one is pregnant. The gravid woman brings out the preachers, pundits and legislators want
What anti-choice people want is not human rights for a fetus; they want supra-human rights, rights that are over and above the rights of the woman. Calling a fetus a person does not change that fact that the fetus does not have the right to a woman’s body. Calling a fetus a person negates the woman as a person.
Consider our existing laws and how they might change if fetal personhood laws went into effect. Would a woman be able to claim her fetus as a dependent on her taxes while pregnant? If she miscarries, would she have to return the tax deductions to the IRS? Would she be charged with homicide if she miscarried? Would a pregnant woman be allowed to drive in the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane? If a woman drank two glasses of wine then 12 days later learned she was pregnant, would she be retroactively charged with child endangerment? Will women with children who have abortions be convicted of murder and serve the rest of their lives in jail? How will the state care for these now-orphaned children? For the college coed who was brutally raped by a fraternity brother and forced to carry the pregnancy to term, will the rapist have visitation rights for 18 years? Should the court appoint a guardian for visitations because of the father’s sexually predatory nature? Who will pay for this guardian: the mother, the father or the taxpayers? Which parent—the mother or the rapist—gets to deduct the child on their income tax? Will the legal birthdate be calculated by date of birth or date of conception? How will doctors or lawyers know the exact time and date of conception? The concept of Personhood creates a legal, financial and moral nightmare not to mention a likely logistical Pandora’s box with expensive governmental surveillance of all those fecund women. As a political aside, while the Gallup poll found that roughly two-thirds of Republicans across most major gender, age, educational, and income lines describe themselves as “pro-life,” the reality is that the Republicans are pro-birth. After birth, you’re on your own, witness the funding cuts to Head Start, WIC, SNAP and other life-supporting programs. They have been pushing the ‘limited government’ rhetoric while expanding government intrusion in women’s reproductive lives. Any fetal personhood law would likely cost billions in surveillance of women’s wombs, monitoring of births, and criminal justice expenditures, thus expanding the government.
Take this personhood argument further. If it becomes legal to force a person to allow another access to their body against their will for the purpose of saving lives, will we extend that law so all qualified human beings be on the National Marrow donor list or to give blood every two months? Does it mean that someone can requisition one of your kidneys (you only need one, right?) or a part of your lung? Can my childless 32 year old colleague requisition your 20-year-old daughter’s uterus for surrogate pregnancy? Should state-sponsored pregnancy be a job option for unwed and unemployed girls? Will we require sperm donations in healthy men with desired characteristics? Why not commandeer one of the grandchild’s corneas when the 76 year old grandfather still wants to drive his pickup truck but needs a cornea transplant? For all those women over 50, can we subject their bodies to transvaginal ultrasounds, blood tests and state-sponsored lectures about what they should expect as they age, what their eggs will look like or how their vaginas will change? These are dystopian questions, to be sure. But they are not too far from the path on which the current war on women is being waged.
Let’s face reality. The argument about fetal personhood is a ridiculous indulgence in imperialism, patriarchal structures and control of the female body and her fertility. It’s time to recognize the woman in the body, the first person, as the only legitimate person in a personhood debate.