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Perils of ‘Personhood’

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If your hand is in the air, you are in luck. An Oklahoma state Senate committee last week passed Senate Bill 1433, “The Personhood Act,” as its first step toward becoming law. This measure states that life begins at conception, so a single-cell fertilized egg has “all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state.”

A Colorado-based organization, Personhood USA, is promoting this type of legislation throughout the U.S. Voters in Colorado and Mississippi, including pro-life voters, have rejected it because of the unintended consequences and the many questions it raises — and leaves to future legislatures or courts to answer.

Almost
all families choose to use birth control at times. Women and babies are
healthier when pregnancies are planned and spaced. Birth control pills,
other hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine devices (IUDs) prevent
pregnancy by blocking ovulation or fertilization. A theoretical
mechanism may block implantation of a fertilized egg, but this cannot be
proven by any test. People who promote “personhood” believe that birth
control pills and other contraceptives cause very early miscarriage, and
therefore most birth control would be banned under this legislation.

Infertility
affects at least 10 percent of couples. Many can achieve their dream of
having a family only by using in vitro fertilization (IVF). Because IVF
means that fertilization and early growth of embryos occur in the
laboratory, many embryos do not survive. Because it is not safe to
return too many embryos to the uterus at once, many embryos are stored
for possible future attempts at pregnancy. Personhood laws potentially
criminalize the natural loss of these newly designated “persons,” and
would take away the rights of parents to control the fate of their
embryos. Because of these threats, doctors would not be able to offer
IVF to families in Oklahoma.

Pregnancy comes with many
hazards to embryos and pregnant women. Some pregnancies implant outside
the uterus and can never become viable infants, but
can lead to the mother’s death by internal bleeding. Molar pregnancies
do not result in live births, but can threaten a woman’s life and
health. Rarely a healthy, early pregnancy can be life-threatening to the
mother due to a medical condition, and pregnancy termination is
recommended to save her life. Some traumatized women choose pregnancy
terminations after rape or incest.

These
are all complex medical decisions that are now made by women, their
families, their physicians and their clergy. The Personhood Act would
give this decision to state government and courts.

Government
should not make these decisions for families. The Personhood Act is
intended to prevent abortion, but it goes too far and will have too many
unforeseen consequences.

Stone is an Oklahoma City obstetrician/gynecologist.

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