Despite repeated attempts to pass state constitutional amendments declaring that a fertilized egg deserves the same protection and rights as any infant, toddler or other person who has been born, the “personhood” movement has had little success in their main goal of ending all abortion, and potentially many forms of contraception as well.
But that hasn’t stopped them from trying newer, bolder ways to grant legal rights from the point in which sperm and egg meet, and these new attempts are downright terrifying beyond just the impact on abortion and birth control.
Alabama has long been at the forefront of the personhood movement, with the state Supreme Court ruling that the point of fertilization is the point in which a human exists that deserves all legal rights. The move allowed the courts to prosecute women for “endangering” fetuses by doing illicit drugs while pregnant and even charging them with murder for bad birth outcomes.
Now the state of Alabama is reinforcing its personhood beliefs and this time it is doctors who are in danger. In a recent state Supreme Court ruling the judges have now stated that the state’s “Wrongful Death” charges can be brought against a doctor whose patient doesn’t carry to term, even if the miscarriage is very early in the pregnancy.
According to Al.com, a woman who miscarried six weeks into the pregnancy has sued her doctor, saying that the obstetrician wrongfully treated her for a likely ectopic pregnancy and that the treatment then caused her to miscarry the embryo that actually had implanted and allegedly was developing in her uterus. Rather than a normal medical malpractice suit, however, the doctor was charged under the “Wrongful Death Act,” and Justice Tom Parker, himself a personhood advocate, agreed it was appropriate.
“Today, this Court again reaffirms the principle that unborn children are protected by Alabama’s wrongful-death statute from the moment life begins at conception,” Parker wrote, according to Al.com. “This has not always been the case in Alabama. Alabama used to deny unborn children who had not yet grown strong enough to survive outside of their mother’s womb the protections of Alabama’s wrongful-death statute.”
If a doctor can be charged with wrongful death when treating a pregnant patient, it is going to make medical professionals far less likely to be willing to work with them, potentially endangering their lives in the case of a medical emergency. With both a pregnant person and an embryo seen as equal patients upon which a doctor could potentially harm, it will become that much more difficult for a practitioner to offer any sort of care to the mother without first worrying about the impact it could have on a developing pregnancy.
This could be even more dangerous when seeking out healthcare during the first trimester, when 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage already, and where a non-viable pregnancy with little chance of succeeding could later be blamed on a doctor despite he or she not having caused the loss at all.
ObGYNs, emergency room doctors and general practitioners aren’t the only ones who need to worry about creeping personhood, either. A new bill being introduced in Missouri is revamping custody rights for embryos created via in vitro fertilization, allowing any one who donated either the eggs or the sperm and is willing to implant the embryos to take custody over any that remain, even if the other party wants them kept frozen indefinitely or even destroyed.
“‘One could argue that if you’re giving personhood protections to frozen embryos, that would apply to other areas of law,” says M’Evie Mead, director of policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri — an advocacy group,” Hannah Levintova of Mother Jones reports. “The provision is also worrisome to groups focused on infertility and assisted reproductive technologies because of the unforeseen consequences it could create for embryos conceived through IVF.”
Both new examples are likely to set precedents that no one has ever considered when it comes to prenatal care, medical malpractice, embryo adoptions and more. But with the chance to chisel away at reproductive rights in the process, that appears to be a can of worms that personhood advocates are more than willing to open up.