What About the Personhood of Women?

From Newsweek magazine to the popular online news site Truthout, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) is getting unprecedented media attention. This coverage confirms that our ideas are taking hold. NAPW is playing a major role in shaping the national debate on the hot-button topics of abortion, so called "personhood" measures, and the war on women.

Media coverage of the Bei Bei Shuai case and the prosecutions of pregnant, drug-using women in Alabama (see coverage in the April 29 issue of The New York Times Magazine) has uniformly recognized that any debate about abortion and the rights of fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses cannot take place without a discussion of the status and value of women in the United States.

For example, this Ms. Magazine article about Ms. Shuai begins by asking the question: What about the Personhood of Women? Reflecting NAPW's research on feticide laws, writer Gaylynn Burroughs reports that such laws not only threaten abortion in the abstract but also pregnant women as evidenced by the very real, concrete prosecutions of Ms. Shuai and hundreds of other women around the country. Ms. Burroughs acknowledges NAPW's 11 years of persistent efforts, concluding:

Regardless of the outcome, the Shuai case reminds reproductive rights advocates of an important truth: The movement has irrevocably shifted away from one primarily about abortion rights, and maybe even away from one about "choice," to something more fundamental. Simply put, attempts to create and enforce fetal right are an assault on a "woman's personhood. By elevating the fetus, or embryos and eggs, these measures diminish the humanity and dignity of all women, creating a separate legal regime for pregnant women that makes them lesser citizens.

This article in Marie Claire about Ms. Shuai similarly echoes NAPW's message that a woman's personhood, not just abortion, is at stake when prosecutors use anti-abortion and related feticide measures as a basis for arresting pregnant women.

NAPW's work is also providing activists as well as journalists with ways to challenge so called "personhood" measures. Abigail Pesta, writing in the July 9, 2012 issue of Newsweek and the online news site The Daily Beast, used NAPW's work to challenge, Keith Mason, the founder of Personhood USA, and to force him to consider the consequences of his political agenda. In the article, Behind 'Personhood' Leader Keith Mason's Anti-Abortion Crusade, Ms. Pesta presented NAPW's position that such measures would give police and prosecutors authority to bring murder charges against pregnant women who suffer pregnancy losses. Mr. Mason went on record dismissing this reality as "ridiculous."

Finally, in What Does Personhood Have To Do With Flood Insurance? Ask Senator Rand Paul, writer Lindsay Cross calls attention to the fact that Senator Paul attached a so-called "personhood" measure to a bill dealing with flood insurance. She writes:

Personhood is a scary initiative for anyone who cares about women's reproductive rights. As Lynn Paltrow, the executive director for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women said brilliantly, "There's no way to give embryos constitutional personhood without subtracting women from the community of constitutional persons." If we are going to debate [personhood measures] in this country, they can't be tacked on to an emergency relief bill. The issue deserves to be addressed clearly, so that the entire country can see just how much these initiatives would take away from women, who by the way, are also supposed to have rights.