Dodged Electing a Personhood President!

human life

First, hats off to reproductive rights supporters who won last night!

If we had elected a “personhood” President, there would be cause for great concern.  While personhood and abortion were hot issues during the campaign, one aspect related to both that didn’t seem to come up like it could of, at least in my observation, is the discussion of the definitive answer to the question, When does human life begin?

Anti-abortion factions are stuck on “the moment of conception” as the answer.  But as Tamara Mann writes in her Huffpo piece, “Heartbeat: My Involuntary Miscarriage and ‘Voluntary Abortion’ in Ohio:”

“There is little consensus among biologists, doctors and ethicists on when life begins. The language here can be tricky. There all sorts of things they agree are alive — from cells, to animals, to people. But that is not what they mean when they discuss life in utero. In this case, they mean life as something endowed with humanness, and worthy of rights…”

It is not just about whether something is “alive,” but at what point is it human life, or the term that has now been used in many of the legislative attempts to prevent abortions – personhood.

As Mann points out “…the literature reveals a litany (italics mine) of standards for determining personhood: conception (day 1), implantation (day 6-7), detectable heartbeat (approximately week 6), detectable brain activity (approximately week 8), quickening (when the mother can feel the fetus moving), development of the cerebral cortex (at the end of the first trimester), viability outside the mother’s body (now as early as 24 weeks with medical support), when the head is visible during labor, and when the baby takes its first breath. Smart, thoughtful people genuinely disagree.”

supreme courtAnd really smart people in the highest court in the land have not come to the answer. Even as far back as 1973, the Supreme Court indicated that people trained in “respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus” and the Court itself “could not resolve the question of when life begins.”

Where do many people go for the answer to this question? To their church. When her doctor told her fetus was “not compatible with life” – that  it would not “survive the pregnancy” and that it should be removed, this is what Ms. Mann did.

The fetus had a heartbeat, she was not sure what to do, and went to a rabbi for counsel. She learned that “In Judaism, the dominant metaphor for life is not the heartbeat — it is the breath. In Genesis 2:7, God breathes life into man: ‘Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man become a living soul.’ Even that final word, soul, nefesh, can be translated as breath.”

Jewish law errs on the side of the mother’s health, and does not see a fetus as “a life.” As Jodi Jacobson, Editor-in-chief of RH Reality Check describes it, Jewish law “does not recognize an egg, embryo, or fetus as a person or full human being, but rather ‘part and parcel of the pregnant women’s body,’ the rights of which are subjugated to the health and well-being of the mother until birth.”

The Vatican disagrees, and see the fertilized egg is a “person” with full rights under the law.  The United Methodist Church – it sees it differently and “recognizes the primacy of the rights and health of women.” And “Islamic scholars, like Jewish scholars, have debated the issues of ‘ensoulment’ and personhood, and continue to do so with no over-riding consensus.”

There is clearly not one answer to the question of personhood.  The problem is the “Moment of Conceptionists” do not accept this, and feel so right about their religious position they want all of us to follow it.

As we head into the next four years, expect this contingent to continue to attempt to make personhood, not Roe v Wade, the law of the land. Expect them to try and chip away at this law any way they can.

However, we will have a president at the helm who can make sure the highest Court continues to see the answer to “when life begins” for what it is – a matter of personal belief, and the right to privacy to make personal choices based on those beliefs.

11 thoughts on “Dodged Electing a Personhood President!

  1. I find it ironic that these same groups who hold up the constitution are the ones who want to define and implement laws regarding personhood. Our first amendment is to protect our freedom of religion and it seems that religion is what is driving the definitions of personhood. I cannot see a personhood amendment passing the lemon test.

  2. I think about abortion as a pragmatist. I think about the cost of creating a system that would have to be in place to really enforce a ban on abortions. It would require an incredibly invasive government (you know, that thing that so many conservatives hate so much) to make it a reality. To me, the cost of enforcement has to be taken into account. Banning abortion cannot take infinite resources and still be worthwhile.

    Especially early in a pregnancy, anyone on the outside would be hard-pressed to distinguish between a spontaneous miscarriage and an induced one. It may not even be clear to the mother herself.

    You’d have to treat every miscarriage as a possible homicide, and find some way to block off the uterus with yellow police tape while the detective collects evidence. Flushing a heavy period could be “destroying evidence of a murder.” You’d also have to ban every one of the dozen substances you can buy at Wal-Mart that someone could use to induce a miscarriage. Carrot seeds, for example.

    And, though I make both sides mad saying this, I think abortion can be morally wrong and still have to be legal. Just because something is wrong doesn’t mean it has to be illegal.

  3. As an atheist, I can easily dismiss any religious definitions about this (or any other) issue. I have become increaingly disgusted at the infiltration of religion into politics over the years.

    While I do not expect this in my lifetime, I want to see an atheist elected president and a majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court being atheists.

  4. I wish we could stop using phrases like “to save the mother’s life” – that is, equating pregnancy and motherhood. Even pro-choicers do this! A pregnancy is not the same as parenting. Maybe this is minor semantics to some, but it’s an important distinction. Anti-choicers, maybe especially moment-of-conceptionists, seem to refer to pregnant women as mothers to subtly enforce their views. Time for pro-choicers to stop following along.

  5. In response to deegee,

    I wonder which the U.S. would get first, another childfree president (James Buchanan was the last one, in the 1850’s, and I think the only one) or an atheist president. I don’t know which will crack first, religiosity or pronatalism.

    I think we’ll see a lesbian single mother as president before we see another childfree person as president.

    1. Interesting prediction – you got me curious about Buchanan and it seems he was gay – – so whether people know it or not, we have already gotten over the gay Pres hurdle 😉 As far as whether we will see a childFree pres or atheist, boy that one is hard to even guess. We might see a woman Pres with no children but I bet it won’t be because she would not have had children no matter what occupation she had chosen…she would be more “childless by circumstance” – like Oprah implies – it is not that she wouldn’t want them, but given her career it would not have been best for the child. Others – what would you predict?

  6. I think we will see a childfree person elected president well before we see an atheist elected president, for the simple reason that childfree people are getting elected to major statewide offices (governor, senator) pretty regularly while atheists are not. (The only “outed” atheist member of Congress, Pete Stark of California, was defeated in last Tuesday’s election – by another Democrat.)

    I do not know if she is interested, but think of Janet Napolitano as someone who surely has the credentials to be elected president. The Democrat is the current Secretary of Homeland Security and was twice elected governor of Arizona, hardly a liberal state, before being appointed by President Obama in 2009.

    Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is also childfree. We have two Supreme Court justives (Kagan and Sotomayor) who are childfree. There is definitely a greater level of acceptance of childfree people in the political arena than there is of atheists.

  7. A woman who had no children of her own and no adopted kids and no stepkids could still be electable if she were somehow “maternal” in some other sense, like being a former kindergarten teacher or involved with children’s charities or had a career as a pediatrician. “Honorary” children would be good enough, but you can’t get away with having none, at least not anytime soon. Being President requires being almost everything to almost everyone, so a childfree person would have to spin up some kind of parental-ness to get elected.

    I’m not sure if Buchanan was the only Prez without children, but he was one of the only ones. George Washington had stepchildren. The “Father of Our Country” was actually sterile and had no children of his own.

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