A group of thirty-one Republican US congressmen (yes, all men, as of this writing) have signed on as cosponsors of a bill to declare that human life "begins with fertilization ... at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood." The bill, H.R. 586, has been titled the "Sanctity of Human Life Act" (SHLA).
Such "personhood bills" are nearly always religiously driven and have a primary (though unstated) goal of making virtually all abortions illegal. And while personhood bills typically fail, we must acknowledge that we are in atypical times. The Trump administration endorses religious right causes and rhetoric, and the Supreme Court has seated a new justice known to be weak on church-state separation. Threats to reproductive rights must thus be taken seriously.
SHLA asserts that "the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution" is vested in each human being and is "the most fundamental right of a person" that Congress has authority to protect.
This sounds simple and even noble, but SHLA is harmful and astonishingly sweeping in its impacts. There are several problems with its all-embracing absolutism. It does not, for instance, accommodate any special-circumstance exceptions, not even the widely accepted one of allowing an abortion to save a mothers life. It misinterprets the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which does not "guarantee a right to life" but says a person cannot be deprived of life "without due process of law." SHLA would outlaw some popular birth control methods (e.g., an IUD that prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus). It would open an unfathomable conundrum as to the fate of excess embryos--which some estimates put at a million or more--created with the goal of aiding pregnancies immediately or preserving such potential for later in the event a prospective future parent became infertile.
But perhaps the most contemptible aspect of SHLA is that it represents politicians playing God, arrogantly insistent on defining a debatable concept like personhood by their perspective only. It presumes congressional laymen possess sufficient critical knowledge of the deep and nuanced complexities of prenatal life, when the fact is that religious, philosophical, and legal authorities far more studied on the topic have had difficulty with personhood definitions throughout history.
CENTURIES OF UNCERTAINTY
Not even people who are typically looked to...