Like any good progressive political analyst, I have been watching with dread as national prognosticators release models showing the Senate is in danger of flipping Republican during the 2014 midterm elections. However, any fear that I had that U.S. Sen. Al Franken could be one of the casualties in this battle disappeared after reading Rachel Stassen-Berger’s recent report from a GOP debate in St. Louis Park, and learning that the potential party nominees have decided that they are publicly supporting “personhood” as a campaign plank.
For those who may have missed it during the last six years that the “personhood” movement has taken off, backers believe that the only way to end abortion is to grant full, legal rights and protections to life at the moment in which sperm meets egg, and to define that still-unimplanted zygote traveling through the fallopian tube as a “baby” that cannot be harmed.
It is a rigid, unscientific definition of pregnancy that the American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians and the vast majority of doctors reject (especially since 50 percent of all fertilized eggs fail to implant and simply pass during a person’s menstrual cycle, according to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center). It’s also a definition that could jeopardize not only the right to both elective and medically necessary abortion but also hormonal birth control, emergency contraception, many forms of assisted reproductive technology for infertile couples and the ability to treat ectopic pregnancies without endangering a person’s future fertility.
It has also been a spectacular failure. Every ballot initiative on “personhood” has been voted down, including twice in Colorado. Even in Mississippi, one of the most conservative states in the nation, the measure lost by almost 2 to 1.
“Personhood” supporters claim the problem is that the public just doesn’t understand their initiative. Actually, the public understands it just fine. The problem for “personhood” proponents is that most people really do want to be able to have sex without fear of becoming pregnant every time they have intercourse, and birth control allows that to happen. Most people want to be able to ensure that if an embryo implants in the fallopian tube and not in the uterus, they can take medication to remove it, rather than have an invasive surgery to remove the tube and harm future fertility — all because any other option is purposefully “murdering” a baby. They want to be able to reach out to a doctor for assistance in creating their own families by using in vitro fertilization so that they can be pregnant and carry their own child, rather than adopting. They understand that “personhood” isn’t just about ending abortion but about changing the entirety of the relationship between doctor and patient, between two spouses, and between parent and child, to a rigid definition of health care, pregnancy and family.
In 2012, multiple sure-thing Republican Senate candidates lost what were projected as easy upsets in red states, all because they embraced a rigid, no-exceptions “life at the moment of conception” stance on the reproductive rights of their voters. If they couldn’t convince the more conservative voters in Indiana and Missouri, how can anyone expect it to work in Minnesota — a progressive state that so strongly values both the personal rights and medical rights of its citizens?
Go ahead and run on “personhood,” as-of-yet-unchosen Minnesota GOP Senate candidate. That is a race I can’t wait to watch.
Robin Marty, of Minneapolis, is a freelance reporter who writes about reproductive rights and politics for outlets like Politico Magazine, Ms. Magazine and Rolling Stone. Her book, “Crow After Roe: How ‘Separate But Equal’ Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That” details the conservative legal blueprint for ending abortion.