What is “Personhood”?

“Personhood” refers to the recognition of human beings in all stages of life –beginlibertyning at biological conception- as human persons having full natural and civil rights. This issue in and of itself is controversial to those who advocate abortion, for they view these tiny, pre-born humans as a mere “clump of cells” with no legal rights.

All of us in the pro-life movement are for the full, legal recognition and protection of personhood for all human beings. It does not matter if these human “clumps of cells” are an embryo, toddler, adolescent, adult, or an elderly person.

Scientifically, pro-abortion advocates cannot deny that a fetus (which is a Latin word for “young one”) conceived by two humans is anything other than a human. To do this would be to deny the fundamental law of biogenesis.

They must also admit that the new human is alive. A human zygote, embryo, fetus – all stages of pre-born life – align with the very definition of the word “life,” which is: “The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, & continual change preceding death.”

31 Days- HandsNow, pro-abortion advocates have been contorting these simple points for decades in order to sway Americans from adhering to pro-life principles. Pro-abortion activists have been trying to convince Americans that laws like the Mississippi Amendment would outlaw hormonal contraception because it can destroy a “fertilized egg,” not a human being.

We will touch on the contraception part later, but for now, let’s correct their scientific misunderstanding. A fertilized egg is a human embryo. Pro-lifers and scientists agree that human life begins at the moment of fertilization – when the sperm and egg unite creating a genetically distinct human being.

Over 30 years ago, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) changed the definition of pregnancy to note the implantation of the human embryo into the mother’s uterine wall, not the moment of fertilization – conception – when a human life is formed.

This definition of pregnancy was carefully changed in order to allow a “cover” for IVF, cloning, stem cell research, hormonal birth control and birth control devices (IUDs), and other reproductive debates. The effect has been devastating and today, many Americans now confuse the moment of a person’s creation (fertilization) with that of when the embryo implants into the mother’s uterine wall a few days after (implantation).

When members of our team debate students on campuses across America, many will finally admit that science agrees the embryo or fetus is a human being but refuse to accept that the human being is a person with rights. Even the most ardent abortion advocates, such as Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, admit that the science proves life begins at conception, but choose to deny rights to these most defenseless of human beings.

As pro-lifers, we believe that a human being obtains personhood at the moment of creation (fertilization/conception).  We are careful analyzers of history and know the dangers when the state decides when a group of human beings become persons and not. Think back to slavery and the Holocaust – both of these cases displayed an instance in which the state determined the level of personhood in certain groups of human beings.

We know that the size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency of a human being should never determine whether or not that human receives personhood status.

So, yes, all pro-lifers are for “Personhood.”

Personhood laws

Personhood laws, like the Mississippi Amendment, that could be passed in the future would recognize that a human being becomes a person at the moment of fertilization. For pro-lifers, it seems like there would be no hesitation to vote “Yes” on these bills.

her brain is formed

However, the debate rages among those in the “mushy” middle, and pro-aborts: Would these laws ban birth control and IVF?  And a similar debate rages within the pro-life movement: Are these laws  a “silver-bullet” that will ultimately ban all abortions in the nation?  Will their passage in one state cause the Supreme Court to uphold Roe and Doe and further cement the false notation of abortion rights in America?

First, let me say that our team at SFLA is committed to supporting any effort we believe will help end abortion and protect women, children, and families from the horror of abortion. And we do not believe in speaking ill against any strategies which seek to do so.

To address the controversy within the pro-life movement first, let me begin by saying that I’m not sure if passing any Personhood law could act as a “silver bullet” to ending abortion in America.  In fact, I highly doubt these laws will ever be our end-all-be-all solution. The longer I work in the movement, the more I begin to realize how much work is ahead of us, and I know that abolishing abortion will require victories on multiple levels. And while I do worry about how the Supreme Court has ruled against Personhood Amendments in the past, which has further solidified Roe and Doe in the process,  I know that in good conscience, I cannot tell pro-lifers not to vote for any Personhood laws or work for their passage.

Now, to address the controversy surrounding the claims that IVF and hormonal birth control will be banned if Personhood laws pass, here are the facts.

First, no, hormonal contraception will not be banned if a Personhood law passes.

It is true that some manufacturers of the birth control pill indicate openly that the pill could cause an early abortion; I’ve read it myself.  I also find it fascinating that the pro-abortion side of the argument is finally beginning to admit the real possibility of early abortions with “pill” usage.  However, this theory has not been proven… yet. (For more information, read this statement by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.) Following logical deduction, many of us in the pro-life movement do believe hormonal contraception does cause early abortions or are uncertain of whether or not it does, so we err on the side of caution and oppose their use.

However, if and when hormonal contraception is proven to destroy a human embryo, the state legislature would have to find that it destroys a human person first, and then pass concurrent legislation.

Now, other mislabeled “contraception” drugs and devices that have scientifically been proven to cause abortions, like ella ( and IUDs, would be banned under this legislation, for their purpose is to destroy the human embryo. However, whether or not these would be banned immediately is anyone’s guess. More than likely, the legislature would have to pinpoint an instance in which one of these “contraception” methods worked as an abortion enabler before this would happen.

human development

If a Personhood law were to pass, it is likely that a majority of IVF practices would be banned. Currently, many IVF practitioners take multiple eggs from a mother, create multiple embryos with the father’s sperm, and then implant 2-3 back into the mother. In the process, they end up freezing unused embryos and “discarding” – throwing away – those embryos deemed to have “less than desirable” qualities deemed by the parents, to include down syndrome, cystic fibrosis and other genetic diseases, or simply for being female. Now, IVF practices can include creating 1 or 2 human embryos, freezing unused eggs in a process called “oocyte cryopreservation” to be used for a second implantation, inserting all embryos created into the mother, and not screening or discarding any embryos with any “undesired qualities.” This type of IVF has actually seen increased success rates and has even been said to be safer for the mother (for more information on these IVF practices, click here). However, the practice of IVF itself is still controversial as the Catholic Church in addition to many other Christians oppose it for its role in taking procreation outside the confines of a marital relationship.

Where does SFLA stand?

While passing a Personhood law would do much to define the ultimate goal that many within the pro-life movement wish to see during our lifetimes, Students for Life of America also considers incremental pro-life legislation – abortion facility health requirements, laws that ban abortion after a child can feel pain, laws that require a mother to be given full information on the abortion process and its psychological and physical implications, and laws that require parental notification and permission before an abortion, etc. – to be proven successful steps in the right direction.

Ultimately, Students for Life of America believes that any steps toward creating an atmosphere more conducive to pro-life values – no matter how big or small – is a significant advancement toward Turning the Tide in America.

I hope this has helped to clarify some questions that have arisen surrounding the concept of Personhood, and I hope you have found this research to be educational as you continue to debate the humanity and personhood of the pre-born at your school.

Students for Life of America applauds all advancements within the pro-life movement of any size and encourage student leaders to share their successful stories with us. Have a story you haven’t shared? Email us today!

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