Last month, voters in Mississippi shot down Initiative 26, the so-called Personhood Amendment, which would have given unborn fetuses the rights of actual people at the moment of fertilization. Personhood USA, the initiative’s Colorado-based sponsor, has launched campaigns to add similar amendments to the ballot in six more states.
Though the amendments’ ambiguities virtually guarantee legal challenges, the bills could ban all abortion, even in the event of rape, incest or threat to the mother’s health; emergency contraception, and emergency procedures save the mother’s life.
One might think that only women who have sex with men would be affected. But personhood amendments carry grave consequences for lesbians, whether or not they plan to build families.
Lesbians are using assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like reciprocal in vitro fertilization at increasing rates. In this procedure, eggs are extracted from one partner’s ovaries, fertilized with donor sperm in a Petri dish, and implanted in the other partner’s uterus to carry to term. Doctors suggest implanting up to four embryos per cycle to maximize the chance that one will develop into a fetus. Often, more than one embryo will survive, resulting in unintended multiples. If personhood amendments succeed, lesbian moms could be forced to carry unwanted embryos to term, raise more children than they planned for, or pay exorbitant costs for the storage of unused, fertilized eggs.
Another obvious reason lesbians should care about these amendments: gay women suffer rape and sexual abuse that can result in pregnancy. Pandora’s Project, a support organization for sexual abuse survivors, claims that 10 percent of all hate crimes against lesbians includes sexual assault. If an anti-gay hate crime resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, lesbian survivors would be out of luck: Personhood amendments prohibit all abortion, end of story.
And, if lesbians read between lines, the personhood amendments aren’t just compassionate actions to save babies. They directly challenges Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Other cases that bolstered women’s reproductive rights could also come under fire, including Griswold v Connecticut, which effectively gave all women access to birth control in 1965. Repealing Roe has been a goal of the Religious Right for decades, a not-so-subtle attack on women’s liberty.
Personhood amendments attempt to transfer a woman’s control over her own person to the “person” growing inside her. Of all women, lesbians have fought the hardest to claim control over their own bodies—and should recognize these harmful bills for the anti-woman propaganda they are.