Religious Zealotry Fuels Personhood Movement

Image of Mike Reynolds

The GOP push to grant personhood to human embryos, which can be viewed as an attack against contraceptive methods, is yet another absurd side show to needlessly incite a segment of the Oklahoma Republican voting base this year, but such an extremist law would surely face a major lawsuit and would never be enacted.

Even Mississippi voters—yes, MISSISSIPPI--voted down a similar measure last year. That’s one of the places Oklahoma often competes with in the race to create the nation’s first official Christian state theocracy.

State Rep. Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, pictured right, has introduced a bill that would present the personhood issue to voters next November in the form of a constitutional amendment. He says the proposed constitutional amendment is different than the one Mississippi voters rejected because it exempts miscarriages and situations in which a mother’s life is threatened by her pregnancy.

Personhood is the current anti-abortion initiative du jour, but it’s unlikely to be successful. What it does do, however, is rally Republican voters under a frame that holds far more connotations than just taking away women’s reproductive rights.

Here are some ideas to consider about the proposed personhood amendment:

(1) Let me state the obvious. A human embryo is not a person. Generally speaking, it’s what scientists have termed what happens once a fertilized egg cell or zygote begins to divide and form an embryo, which is part of a woman’s body. It’s a type of cell matter that may or may not form into a person outside the womb. The fact that people can and will argue over the definition of personhood means the issue would never be resolved.

(2) The personhood movement is disingenuous. Obviously, anti-abortion activists want to make abortion illegal. Why not just approach the issue in this upfront matter? Here are two reasons why: (1) Leaders of the anti-abortion movement know it’s highly unlikely they will make abortion illegal in this country, and (2) the anti-abortion industry has well-funded operations that seem more about sustaining themselves than stopping abortions. Again, why don’t leaders of the anti-abortion movement attack Roe v. Wade or try to pass a constitutional anti-abortion amendment on the federal level? It’s because they would lose. The ugly truth is that, generally speaking, the anti-abortion movement tries to punish impoverished women in poorer states because they can’t get a national majority to change the law.

(3) As I stated, “abortion” is a code for a host of other myths and symbols in the right-wing, but more than anything else it has become an excuse for some voters to not engage in the world around them. If opposition to abortion is a voter’s only litmus test, then other aspects of our communal life—civil rights, the economy, foreign policy—become secondary, and this is a tragic error. Anti-abortion activists, under a banner of sanctimony, encourage this reductionist world view. Meanwhile, for many in the right-wing, opposition to abortion also means larger concepts, such as returning to a mythical past, so-called family values, religious piety, elitism and rebuke, and a sense of belonging to a group, which disingenuously insists it’s the one that faces discrimination, not the women it attacks year after year.

(4) Personhood for human embryos is clearly part of the ongoing attack on women’s reproductive rights, including contraception. Birth control and in vitro fertilization that results in an embryo’s death would be illegal under the amendment. What happens with Plan B, an emergency contraceptive, under this amendment? The amendment can obviously be viewed as a prelude to banning all contraception. The nebulous concept of personhood for human embryos could have broader implications that could hold responsible anyone who knowingly participated in an embryo’s death, including a male who either encouraged or didn’t prevent an abortion of a pregnancy created by his sperm.