We were here first

There was a very good (and horrifying) discussion of “fetal personhood” on Fresh Air yesterday.

Should a pregnant woman whose behavior has been deemed dangerous to her fetus be legally punished or forced into medical procedures against her will? A study released earlier this year found hundreds of cases across the country where pregnant women were arrested and incarcerated, detained in mental institutions and drug treatment programs, or subject to forced medical interventions, including surgery.

The study, conducted by the group National Advocates for Pregnant Women, found 413 criminal and civil cases where law enforcement intervened in the lives of pregnant women between 1973 — the year the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade — and 2005.

Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross speaks with the group’s executive director, Lynn Paltrow, who says the legal claims used to justify some of these actions rely on the same arguments that are made in support of personhood measures that would grant the fetus full constitutional rights independent of the pregnant woman.

Paltrow was emphatic about the fact that giving fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses full constitutional rights independent of the pregnant woman means taking away the pregnant woman’s full constitutional rights.

That’s so obvious, and it’s such a horrifying thing to propose, that it’s blood-chilling to know that there are women who are campaigning for this nightmare. “Yes, please, take away the full constitutional rights of the class of people to which I myself belong!”

Yo: the fertilized egg, the embryo, the fetus, is inside the body of another human being. You can’t give it full constitutional rights without taking away the full constitutional rights of the person whose body is housing it. Her rights should trump those of the fertilized egg, the embryo, the fetus.


  1. says

    A fetus can’t have constitutional rights for the same reason a fish or a human skin cell can’t have such rights: it’s not a person, and is not at all capable of thinking, feeling or acting like a person.

    Treating as human something that is nowhere near human in any meaningful way, serves only to dehumanize the FULLLY DEVELOPED AND SENTIENT human who carries it.

  2. rnilsson says

    Can there be, hidden right here in plain sight, some notion concerning the purported sovereignty of voters?
    It’s a riddle. I’m sure. Bless all’y’all hearts.

  3. CJO says

    I heard the interview with Paltrow. I turned it off when she brought on the forced-birther. I… just can’t. It’s so insidious, so sickeningly disingenuous. So far, the voting public seems to see through it, even in Mississippi.

  4. Chaos Engineer says

    Can there be, hidden right here in plain sight, some notion concerning the purported sovereignty of voters?
    It’s a riddle. I’m sure. Bless all’y’all hearts.

    I guess you want to make a point of some sort but I’m not sure what it is.

    Are you trying to invoke the Libertarian argument that government regulation is inherently bad? If so, that’s widely recognized as a fallacy. Government regulations that violate basic human rights are inherently bad, but regulations that don’t violate basic human rights can be justified, and they need to be considered on their merits.

  5. rq says

    This article, about Zoe’s law, had a good perspective on fetal personhood (and on maternal rights), I thought. I’m sure there are things to critique, but the point of view expressed was, to my mind, pretty solid.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    #4 Chaos Engineer

    Are you trying to invoke the Libertarian argument that government regulation is inherently bad?

    rnilsson does not make it at all clear, but I interpreted it the opposite way, that the wishes of the majority trump the rights of the individual. After all, that does seem to be the opinion of a whole lot of Americans, for instance telling men that they have no right to marry other men, or women, women, merely because lots of folks think it’s icky.

  7. R Johnston says

    Any good faith reading of the Thirteenth Amendment leads to the conclusion that whatever rights a fetus may or may not have, it does not have any property rights to the uterus in which it resides. The Thirteenth Amendment explicitly abolishes the practice of granting property rights in a person’s body to anyone or anything other than that person.

    I really wish that the legal arguments in favor of abortion had been properly framed. The right to privacy is entirely the wrong way to look at it. A woman’s uterus is nobody’s property but her own; to argue otherwise is to promote slavery. It’s easy to see exactly how ridiculous arguments about fetal rights and fetal personhood are once you adopt the belief that women are not slaves.

  8. rnilsson says

    Like I said, it’s a riddle. How can any number of “sovereign” voters have any say what-so-f-ing-ever as to how a Person must behave, or even live their own lives? (Or as to Person’s foetus.) I just don’t geddit. Never have. Never will.

    Sorry if I was unclear before, ChaosEngine. I care not for libels such as Liberal, Libertarian or even Libertine. In my view, a voter has precisely one vote every few years, and that vote is to be carefully used for electing some specified person to act for them according to some pork program, chosen precisely to get the electee voted into office. Thus ends the voters’ responsibility and sovereignty. And, moreover, begins the responsibility of the elected; this part too often neglected, alas.

    Neither that elected politician nor the electorate really (should) have much influence at all on personal life choices of actually sovereign subjects, or persons. This really should be up to each individual, so long as the result does not badly effect anyone else or, in the extreme, society as a whole. (Madmen and criminals may have to be kept in check; as long as I’m neither just GET OFF MY LAWN.)

    Government regulations that violate basic human rights are inherently bad

    No, those are inherently invalid. Whether that is actually enforceable is perhaps one measure of the degree of democracy achieved.

    The law must be eminently defensible. Anything else is, in the final analysis, moot; except at gunpoint. Is that Librarian? No, Sagittarian. Is that really what we want? Let’s take a vote 😉

    That was one brief glimpse of my political philosophy, even more briefly expressed. HTH 🙂

    (Oh, and there may have been one tpyo up there;)

  9. johnthedrunkard says

    So, a pregnant woman can, say, guzzle alcohol while pregnant and turn her (future) child into a dribbling moron as an expression of her independance and self determination.

    If the same woman drinks the same amount and kills the same (post birth) child in a car wreck, why not make the same argument?

    Any law designed to stop the first situation will run afoul of the Right of the Individual. But so do laws intended to stop the second.

    Of course, all these concerns are moot when the real agenda is forcing women to bear children they haven’t chosen to have.


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