Ever since Republicans swept to local and federal offices in the 2010 midterm elections, it’s been on.
Many states with by GOP majorities have pushed to restrict access to abortion by various means like defunding Planned Parenthood, adding longer wait times for women seeking terminations, and even having a fetus testify before congress in a push to outlaw the procedure.
The newest front for anti-abortion activists is to redefine the point in which life actually begins. Abortion foes want to define personhood “exactly at creation,” or in other words, when fertilization begins.
Despite the push to define personhood at the time of conception, doctors have long held that fertilization doesn’t mark the beginning of a pregnancy.
“The medical community has really been quite clear about when pregnancy begins,” says Dan Grossman, an obstetrician/gynecologist at the University of California, San Francisco, “and that definition is that pregnancy begins once implantation occurs.”
Fertilization and implantation are two very different things. According to Dr. Grossman, only half of fertilized eggs actually result in a pregnancy. Some fertilized eggs never implant in a woman’s uterus, while others spontaneously abort. So, considering fertilized eggs people, with the same rights and benefits as those of us who are living and breathing, doesn’t make much sense to medical professionals.
Redefining the start of personhood at the time of conception will also threaten the use of many contraceptives.
“This redefinition really could end up reclassifying all of these effective and safe birth control methods as abortifacients, or agents that induce abortions,” he says.
That’s because some of those methods may not only act to prevent fertilization but, if fertilization does occur, may prevent that fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus.
But does that equal an abortion? Grossman doesn’t think so and says most of his colleagues don’t, either. “It’s certainly not a view that’s held by the medical profession or that’s based on medical evidence, and it’s certainly not consistent with what American women and couples want and use to plan their families,” he says.
Another potentially dangerous outcome of labeling a fertilized egg a person would be to “separate a woman from her pregnancy,” which could prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion in cases when the pregnancy is life-threatening and not viable, such as an ectopic pregnancy.
“Ectopic pregnancies are not viable pregnancies,” ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas told NPR. “And so it is essential an ectopic pregnancy be terminated as soon as possible. But by giving all fertilized eggs legal rights under the law, that calls into question what kind of methods a doctor can actually use to save a woman’s life in a situation like this.”
Similar bills to redefined personhood have been defeated in the past, but with Republican majorities in several statehouses and in Congress, its passage isn’t all that far-fetched. Personhood USA, an anti-abortion group, hopes to get proposals on the ballot in about half of all states in time for the 2012 elections, and the ACLU is planning to challenge each initiative in court.
Stay tuned and stay informed.