The Christian Fascists’ Personhood Campaign

human eggTaking its “life begins at conception” assault from State Legislature to State legislature, one of the most dangerous political forces in the U.S. is stepping up its crusade for the “rights” of the unborn. Backed by an organization called Personhood USA, the latest offensive by anti-choice Christian fascists involves a renewed movement to amend state constitutions to establish human rights and personhood status for fertilized eggs. On November 8th, Mississippi voters will decide the fate of Initiative 26, a personhood amendment that could precipitate the dismantling of Roe vs. Wade. 

Ever immune to morality, reason, church-state separation precedents and an understanding of the basic laws of biology, the most flat earth reactionary segment of the pro-death anti-choice movement wants to circumvent constitutional protections for abortion by conferring personhood on fertilized eggs. This would eviscerate the premise that women have a sovereign and singular right to control their bodies by designating rights before implantation and a clinically viable pregnancy has been determined. For those who have any elementary grasp of the human reproductive process, conception does not automatically result in pregnancy and the vast majority of fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus. Yet if the egg crusade zealots have their way this new initiative would potentially criminalize any woman attempting to use birth control pills or IUDs, and jeopardize in vitro fertilization procedures and stem cell research.

We’ve been down this road before. In 2009, the egg crusaders were able to convince the North Dakota House of Representatives to pass a constitutional amendment on personhood. It was later vetoed by the State Senate. Colorado voters also rejected a similar ballot initiative 73% to 27%. New initiatives are being slated for Wisconsin, Florida and other states.

sikivu hutchinsonOne of the most reprehensible arguments that the personhood campaign makes to bolster its cause is a comparison between egg rights and the movement to abolish slavery. The California campaign’s website cites Joshua Giddings, a 19th century American anti-slavery legislator who held that “God” as “author” of all life grants the inalienable right to life to every being. Following this argument it is unclear who is exactly “enslaving” pre-implanted fertilized eggs. Is it potential mothers who arrogantly lay claim to their own bodies? Is it the state for failing to protect the right of pre-implanted fertilized eggs to implantation? By cloaking its propaganda in the rhetoric of civil and human rights the movement avoids delineation of the real life consequences for women, once again reducing them to vessels with no agency, right to privacy or control over their own bodies.

This imagery draws from the same demonizing language evoked in the recent anti-abortion Radiance Foundation campaign targeting the “dangerous wombs” of women of color. The parenthood website does not specify what rights un-implanted eggs would be conferred with other than, presumably, the right to progress to the implantation stage, fetal development and then birth. There are no details about who or what could act on the behalf of the un-implanted egg as person if the host carrier (formerly known as mother) of the egg were to determine that she should receive medical treatment.

How Mississippi’s Prop 26 Can Hurt ALL Pregnant Women from NAPW on Vimeo.

There was no information on who would legally be empowered to intervene or act on behalf of the un-implanted egg as person (the state perhaps?) to object to any stance that the mother might take. It stands to reason that if contraception were used to prevent the inalienable right of the egg as “person” to implant then host carriers who did so would be criminalized and prosecuted for murder. As a preventive measure, potentially offending host carriers could perhaps be fitted with special ankle bracelets or encoded with state monitored electronic microchips to preclude violations.

The Catholic and fundamentalist Christian activists at the forefront of the egg crusade are curiously silent on these small details. In true schizoid fashion they push for special faith-based government entitlements and yet scream about government interference, rallying big government to run roughshod over women’s fundamental right to privacy through a new regime of policing. And indeed, their own “family planning” policies have proven an abysmal failure, as evidenced by the exploding teen birth rates in Bible Belt states like Alabama and Mississippi, in comparison to lower rates in the relatively godless Northeast and Northwest (abstinence-only sex education programs and fundamentalist Christian propaganda against fornication outside marriage would seem to be a source of cognitive dissonance for Southern teens).

The anti-human rights egg crusade would take this national obscenity one step further by deepening the region’s poverty and straining its already overburdened, family-averse social welfare net. Fortunately, Initiative 26 has elicited grassroots activism and backlash from groups as diverse as fertility rights organizations to Mississippians for Healthy Families to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. The fervor of this “new” brand of anti-abortion activism only underscores the need for a vigorous secular defense against the continued incursions of the Religious Right. It’s either that or get ready for the ankle bracelets.

Sikivu Hutchinson

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.


  1. Tim Butler says

    Sikivu Hutchinson,
    I appreciate you laying out the reasons for the proabortion side of this issue but can you not do it without emotional and derogatory terms like “anti-choice Christian fascists” or “flat earth reactionary.” As for the “pro-death anti-choice movement” it remains to be seen who is really on the side of life and choice, the two not necessarily in opposition to each other as you assume in your arguments.

    The first problem is the ambiguity you present in your synonymous use of the terms “egg” and “fertilized egg.” To the prolife mind a human egg or human sperm are not persons until they come together, the sperm physically penetrating the egg, at which point it is a fertilized egg we speak of, and from that point on it is and remains a human person. While the biology is indisputable in that a human being is generated through this act what is left to decide is the personhood of that being.

    Therefore I have to ask when you use the terms “un-implanted eggs” interchangeably with “fertilized eggs” are you purposely doing this to confuse? As an educated woman you should also know that the material of the egg and sperm both makeup the DNA composition of a complete human being and therefore even science confirms it is a human being we speak of at the point of fertilization. Personhood is a logical consequence because there is no other place then at the beginning of human life for one to become a person. As such it is not a scientific finding, rather a philosophical proposition, nor is it a proposition that goes against the biological reality in any way. You may desire to place personhood at the point of viability or some other arbitrary place in the development of the human fetus but the question must be asked… why is it better there then the first moment of conception? Philosophically personhood refers to an “individual substance with a rational nature” as Boethius defined in the 6th century. This means a person is a being that has an intellect capable of thinking in the way we find all normal adult human beings able to do. Yet while we can’t see a mentally handicapped person exhibit thinking we don’t consider them non-persons do we? No, we afford them all the rights and subsequent protection of a person because we know they have the potential to think but cannot for reasons neither properly understood nor curable. Likewise for the developing human being in the womb, they have the potential to walk and speak and cry and do all the other acts an intellectual being does but are prevented by their state in life. This state, unlike that of a mentally handicapped person, is a stage they will grow out of given time and nurishment and therefore we have an even more provocative reason to defend their actual personhood because of these potential abilities. And note these potencies are what we’ve all had and we’ve all passed through this stage in our own lives. In fact we still have potentiality in us that has not been realized that will someday become actualized. So the question becomes how anyone can indiscriminately take the life of not just a handicapped person but one still residing in their mother’s womb simply by claiming they are not persons? This idea is akin to Hitler’s ideas meant to dehumanize the Jews before he did what he wanted with their life and we all agree what Hitler did was not good.

    The second problem are the conclusions you come to as you contemplate the loss of “rights” once personhood is formally established for preborn human beings. Notice I say formally because in saying all human beings are persons we are merely recognizing a fact that is materially present and has always been so as I’ve explained above (this parallels recognition of persons of color who were once admitted as having only 3/5th’s personhood but today are recognized to have that which they ALWAYS possessed).

    It seems to me the religious fervour with which proabortion activists hold too is akin to that fervour slave owners held over the right to own slaves. There is a direct parallel here because if one admits the former group is composed of persons then to dictate in some cases their lives are not protected is to admit a form of slavery. And here lies the contention with current laws that once personhood is formally declared for human beings in the prebirthed stage it will call into question many acts currently considered to be licit. This is why prolife leaders from the begining of the movement (prior to 1973) have been saying that human beings have a “right-to-life from the first moment of conception until natural death.” Contraceptives, because they have an abortificient quality thus preventing implantation of an already existing person, are immoral and therefore should become illicit. Likewise, because extracting stem cells from an embryo kills the host, embryonic stem cell therapy also becomes immoral. IVF is a different story because it is an attempt to fertilize an egg outside of their natural context where a man and woman are involved in conjugal acts and thereby is immoral of itself. It is further complicated by the fact that these fertilized eggs can then be mistreated in the same way a fetus is in an abortion or put in indefinite suspension by freezing (and without their permission!), later to be unthawed and their body parts used to further someone else’s life (think Nazi Germany here!).

    Another problem is that you neglect to separate a natural miscarriage or “conception does not automatically result in pregnancy and the vast majority of fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus” from the willed interference with pregnancy or induced abortion. An unintended miscarriage is not immoral and would carry no legal consequence after personhood is defined. Therefore an “un-emplanted egg” has no bearing on a woman’s moral status in abortion. As for the “real life consequences for women” a definion of personhood in no way would result in “reducing them to vessles with no agency, right to privacy or control over their own bodies.” On the contrary a women can control her body by refusing sexual intercourse if she is not ready for the consequence. As with any other of her children she has the right to do with her body what she wants up to the point where it interferes with another person’s body. A woman cannot use her fist to hit another person any more than she should be allowed to harm the person residing in her womb. If a woman decided to tie one of her children to her bed or confine them to a closest for days as a punishment she would lose her “right to privacy” when the long arm of the law came after her… and rightly so! No one, not even a woman privleged with the gift of pregnancy, can harm an innocent person intentionally, and where it is necessary to make law it should properly reflect this. Let’s get past all the rhetoric here… all the rights our Declaration and Constitution establish are directed toward the protection and maintenance of human life. To say otherwise is to twist the purpose of the Constitution so that we in effect have no protections at all. Thus our right to religion, to assemble, to speak, and even pursue happiness are to serve life and not the other way around. Every act of abortion takes a human life based upon where that person lives and thereby prevents the activity of these other rights. These rights, as well as our so-called right to privacy, must be secondary to our right-to-life and so abortion which indiscriminately takes a person’s life, cannot be a protected status under our Constitution. With life there is authentic choice; without life there can be no such thing as choice!

  2. Kate says

    Absolutely brilliant. Yesterday it was abortions, today it’s euthanasia, with our nurses being trained as we post. And I assume none of you are getting any younger. However, I’m sure you’ll still feel the planet needs to be saved when it’s your time.

  3. Ray Bishop says

    Jack you are so right; meanwhile we go on destroying the planet so that those humans who are born live in poverty, with scarcity of drinking water as we pollute the water, scarcity of food as we kill the ocean and land, scarcity of housing as we can no longer afford to live in homes and kill trees, scarcity of the air as it becomes more polluted, scarcity of energy as we deplete the energy sources, and a scarcity of jobs with our new technology and to many people.
    No need to worry – the wealthy and corporate people will create more wars to sell more weapons and will kill off people as they justify war by fighting over the scarce necessities of life. Besides that the insurance companies who sell health insurance will raise rates and the cost of medicine so that people who can not afford it will die off. They really don’t need the elderly as they are unable to work so they will die sooner. The organized religions will prosper as people will pay for the hope of a better life.

    Today is a milestone as we hit a new record in billions of people. We need to begin to think in terms of quality of life not quantity and what we who are educated and caring liberals need to fight for.

    So those who say they are in favor of life for the fetus are hypocrites as they promote death for the living.

    • Tim Butler says

      Jack and Ray Bishop,
      Initiative 26 did not pass because so many people are misinformed and improperly understand the subject spoken of here. So Jack let me see if I understand you correctly; not killing human beings prior to birth is “against [our] own interests?” ok! I’m just wondering if you’ve ever taken a drive out west, say across Texas or Arizona? Myself, I don’t need to ride through a desert for hours in order to realize that “over population” is a myth. Every time I drive through the woods here in East Tennessee or back where I used to live in Michigan, I realize if my car breaks down I might have to walk for miles (and hours) in order to find someone to help me. But of course this universal fact is irrelavant to those who would like forced sterilization in the name of birth-control in America. If you are really concerned with the 7 billion persons on earth now why don’t you volunteer to sterilize or take the pill yourself? Of course you will not because that is not your concern rather it is the misplaced desire to convince others that moral good is as you imagine it to be without any absolute authority outside yourself.

      And Ray, let’s look at this honestly, if there is a scarcity of water, food, energy, housing, jobs and trees as you suggest is it the fault of too many people or the bad thinking of those of us who make decisions. This question implies that We The People elect representatives to make overarching policy for Americans. So we have to ask are these policies of abortion on demand, government prohibition of potential stocks of petroleum based energy, lack of interest in clean and virtually unlimited nuclear and fusion energy and government interference in banking and private business industries good policies?

      I suggest to you they are the problem and that the more we limit government to its most primary duty, which is to defend us from those who would harm us, both outside and inside our borders, the better off Americans would be. Consequently a standing military and police force are necessary for our security and an industry to produce weapons is a subsequently desirable.

      Instead you would rather demonize “wealthy and corporate people” who are American citizens living the American dream of starting a business and prospering by their own hard and ethical work. It is these people who drive our country’s prosperity by providing millions of jobs and they do so because of the incentive “getting rich” instills in them and which can drive each of us too. Unfortunately government regulation quells incentive to be productive and encourages people to live off welfare and other entitlements as dictated by a few at the top of government.

      What is totally absurd to me in Jack and your thinking is how you damn the “billions of people” in the world endorcing population control which implies all forms of sterilization and abortion. I guess birth-control less bloody than war which is why you can’t see that there is legitimate defense of one’s self and their nation as expounded by Just War Theory. Then you turn around and say those who are against abortion, who therefore want to define all human beings as persons from fertilization to natural death, “promote death for the living.”

      If you sincerely care for the living then you first must include all of them or it is you who are the hypocrite. Those who are able to gainfully work should be allowed to by “forcing” government to get off their backs with millions of pages of regulation that hinder them from doing their job (that which they know best). We also must insist our government tax us less by ceasing to spend what we’ve already given them so friviously on welfare and entitlement programs they cannot keep in the long run. It is simply best that such social safety nets be handled at a level closer to each person being helped through family and church or other private institutions setup to do so. Implied in government handout mentality is this false idea that people are greedy and business owners, if allowed to work freely, will undercut their own business by abusing their customers. Those owners who are corrupt can be weeded out by a market system where customers are free to walk away and patronize other businesses of their choice. What is being overlooked in contrary ideology is that government representatives are also people who can be greedy if allowed to possess too much power. This is why our Constitution set up three branches and gave most authority to states rather than the federal body. The more we allow government to dictate how we live the less free we are. Likewise the more we convince Americans they need government assistance the less responsible they will be. We must therefore demand that government do it’s job of defending Americans and our borders. We must provide the means to do it and we cannot do this by demonizing weapons, bombs and just war.

      Last but not least a government cannot remain legitimate while at the same time justifying the killing of some of it’s citizens as abortion does. Nor can any good governmen dictate to it’s citizens how many children they may have as is done in China’s forced abortion policy.

  4. Ted Vaill says

    I find it incredible that “pro-life” people insist on imposing their religious beliefs on persons who don’t share their beliefs, by seeking to forbid abortion if it is the choice of the mother, or if health issues dictate it, or if the woman is a victim of rape or incest. It is none of their business what the woman and her doctors decide to do with her body and what it creates.

    • Tim Butler says

      Ted Vaill,
      …and I find it incredible that anti-life people insist on imposing their anti-religious views on persons who don’t share their beliefs, by seeking to force abortion on the will of the mother…!

      But of course this is not really what is going on here with the issue of abortion, is it? It’s not about who is imposing what. Rather is it about a clash of world views and fundamentally about whether a child still in their mother’s womb has the same right-to-life as the mother and every other American …and in fact ever single person alive across the world …we’ve fought this war before.

      The issue stems from the fact that at least two persons are involved in every abortion and in fact at least three persons are involved in every pregnancy. This little fact is never brought up by so-called prochoicers and is why you are so against defining human personhood at the very first moment of conception called fertilization. True a woman’s body is no one else’s business until it somehow interferes with the rights of another but of course this is exactly what we argue here. That the child happens to be in a woman’s body simply cannot make it any less a person than the mother who is indispensible in support of her one week old child, both of whom we agree are persons. To scream “choice” or “rights” without recognizing the choice and rights of that developing human person in that mother’s womb is dishonest.

      If a woman does not want to deal with pregnancy then let her refrain from sexual intercourse. It’s as simple as that and in fact it applies to the man too! If a woman is pregnant with an ectopic condition then there are no moral problems with a doctor seeking to save both mother and child by separating the two. The death of the child is not willed and if our medical technology eventually can keep the fetal child alive and bring it to term outside the womb then both will be saved. But all prolifers who fight against the blatant misrepresentations here know that unless a fetus attaches to the mother’s lining properly she is in danger of death and therefore so is the baby.

      As for rape or incest, why exactly would a woman want to kill the child developing inside her when that child, like the mother, did not will it’s conception either? Why would we punish the mother or child because of what the father did, and I use the word father loosely here. It is morally better for all persons involved that the woman carry HER child to birth and either keep it or give it up for adoption out of love, not hatred of the child who is just as innocent as she is of the crime of the man. Bottom line here is that the indiscriminate killing involved in abortion solves no problems. In cased of rape or incest it is better for the offending man to be brought to justice. As for “health” of the mother the term is so ambiguous that nothing meaningful can be derived from it in order to make any good law. We would never use such general terms to legislate any other protections so why would we with abortion?

  5. Jack says

    This initiative will probably pass. The right wing can always get ignorant people to vote against their own interests. This is why organized religion is so insidious. Desperate people who believe the silly fairy tale of big daddy in the sky will vote the way their church tells them to vote. This isn’t about “saving the babies,” it’s about getting poor people to continue to overpopulate the country so churches and businesses have a large pool of low income members and workers. Probably the only way we’ll ever stop this cycle is to get the government to develop truly safe and effective birth control and give it away free.

  6. Susan says

    You start out by bashing Christians but then go on to a different subject. Of course you never get into the subject of separation of church and state.

    No one from this website or NE Dem’s will get into the subject either. Forced religion is having to hear church bells 6 times a day or more every day of the week. But yet no one anywhere will take this subject on. This is illegal and a violation of the Federal, State and local noise laws. The city attorney refuses to take the law on. And, what about NE DEM’s? They close their mouth and not only do nothing about it but do not even support those that would do something about it.

    These hypocrite catholics only care about themselves and not their neighbors. And, Dem’s that don’t take on this issue are hypocrites too.

  7. -Nate says

    Scary , isn’t it ? . I’m pleased to see you and others finally speaking out against the lying , cowardly gop false ‘ christians ‘ who have NO IDEA what Christ’s message was .


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