PCRS Update: Personhood Legislation Movement

Posted on June 24, 2013 by Inception Fertility

“Personhood” legislation is a national movement to codify into state and federal law the idea that legal status as a person occurs at conception. This would define an embryo as a “person”, and all state and federal laws which provide protections to “a person” would be extended to all embryos- both fresh and frozen. This would significantly impact the way IVF could be practiced, the protections patients would have over decisions they make about their eggs and embryos, and legality of numerous techniques we routinely use in the laboratory (ICSI/ cryopreservation/ biopsy).

The Personhood movement has been led by the Pro-Life constituency with the hope of ending all technologies perceived as “ending life”. However, re-naming an embryo as a person would impact the legality of all IVF technologies which create embryos, manipulate embryos, may potentially change embryos or lead to destruction of embryos. Such legislation would force IVF physicians and clinics to decide if they can practice within such a legal arena-- and the reality is that most IVF clinics in states where Personhood legislation may be passed, would shut down. Physicians and health care providers are unlikely to be willing to be subjected to potential criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

The Personhood movement strategy is to vote Personhood laws in one state (via either legislative bills or ballot initiatives), and then use that victory to march across enough states to bring a vote to the Federal Supreme Court, and change the constitution. This movement began in 1985 in Missouri, but lost momentum. In the mid-2000 there were several new state-level attempts: Mississippi, Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Oregon-- all were defeated. In 2008 came the first ballot initiative in Colorado, which was voted down by 73% to 27%. After this defeat, the organization PersonhoodUSA organized and in 2010 presented a newly worded Amendment in Colorado, with “unintended consequences of IVF” being the key issues, with wording to “force medical scientists to come up with ethical alternatives to the mass production and mass extermination of human being at the hand of fertility clinics”. This was again defeated.

Mississippi defeated a Personhood bill in 2011, based on the aggressive public education that such a bill would limit, if not shut down, fertility treatment in that state. A new Colorado bill was introduced in 2012, as well as in 15 other states- including California. All legislation failed, and no initiative made it to the ballot. Despite all these repeated defeats, the fight for Personhood is anticipated to be even more aggressive in 2013-14. At stake are some of the following potential scenarios:

first degree murder for those who intend to cause the death of a person
if an embryo is a “person”- will discarding of embryos be considered murder

imprisonment for child abuse if a person causes injury to a child’s life or health
will embryo biopsy be labeled as child/person abuse
will embryo freezing be labeled as a potential cause of personal injury

if embryos are “people/persons” and have the same 5th/14th Amendment rights as adult persons,
even life-saving exceptions would not be permitted
can you treat a patient with an ectopic pregnancy, to save her from a life-threatening
condition, and yet not be in legal conflict with the rights of the terminated ectopic pregnancy

It is clear that this fight is continuing. It is also important to acknowledge that being Pro-Life is not mutually exclusive with being against Personhood. The most important unintended consequences of Personhood legislation are the legal restrictions it places on IVF clinics/physicians/embryologists, and the important limitation of access to IVF services it places on our patients.

All it takes is for ONE state to pass Personhood legislation, and ALL states will be impacted– it will lead to a domino effect, with the intention of eventually going to the Supreme Court and making a constitutional change. As providers of Women’s Health care and Fertility services, it is important for all IVF centers to stay informed about this movement, and for all infertility patients to advocate for access to services across every state. We must minimize the risk of Personhood legislation passing. Join organizations with a mission to educate and advocate for fertility patients: ASRM, RESOLVE, ParentsAgainstPersonhood.

Organization’s Websites




— Isabelle Ryan, M.D.
PFC Physician

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