Bioethics Blogs

Have a Miscarriage and Go to Jail? Potential Consequences of Personhood Amendments

When she was 18, Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez Aldana was sentenced to 30 years in jail. Her crime was delivering a stillborn baby. She was suspected of having had an abortion. While her  sentence was overturned on January 21,  her original conviction of homicide was the result of Article 1 of El Salvador’s constitution: “El Salvador . . . recognizes as a human person every human being since the moment of conception.”

Many in America would no doubt welcome a similar change to our laws and even our constitution. For the past several election years, there have been attempts by pro-life advocates in several states to pass personhood amendments, granting a legal right to life to human embryos and fetuses. Personhood USA, the main group spearheading these efforts, describes its goal as follows: “The intrinsic humanity of unborn children, by definition, makes them persons, and should, therefore, guarantee their protection under the law . . . if the Court considers the humanity of the preborn child, it could end this age-based discrimination and restore the legal protections of personhood to the preborn.”

 So far, these attempts have been unsuccessful; even traditionally “deep red” states like North Dakota have rejected these initiatives. However, it is likely that we will see repeated attempts to pass such amendments.

Typically, pro-life advocates who support personhood amendments do so only with an opposition to abortion in mind. Such a view is dangerously myopic. As I argued in my article, “Beyond Abortion: The Implications of Human Life Amendments” in the Journal of Social Philosophy, granting legal status to human embryos and fetus has significant and worrisome consequences outside the abortion issue.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.