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Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Spring 2018

Publication Citation

93 Indiana Law Journal 499 (2018)

Abstract

Just three days prior to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, Representative Jody B. Hice (R-GA) introduced the Sanctity of Human Life Act (H.R. 586), which, if enacted, would provide that the rights associated with legal personhood begin at fertilization. Then, in October 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services released its draft strategic plan, which identifies a core policy of protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception. While often touted as a means to outlaw abortion, protecting the “lives” of single-celled zygotes may also have implications for the practice of reproductive medicine and research. Indeed, such personhood efforts stand apart and distinct from more incremental attempts to restrict abortion that target the abortion procedure and those who would perform it. While personhood efforts have not been successful to date at either the state or federal levels, abortion opponents may find a friend in President Trump and his Supreme Court nominees. What is more, because the recent decision by the Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt makes it more difficult for states to impose incremental restrictions on the abortion procedure, restrictions focused on the status of the unborn may assume increasing importance. Personhood rhetoric is often seen in proceedings involving the disposition of unused embryos and in laws that restrict access to abortion on the basis of gender, race, or disability. Laws outlawing abortion on the basis of fetal pain are also on the rise. With so much uncertainty surrounding the political landscape, this Article places the personhood movement in historical context with other antiabortion strategies. This Article further explores the theoretical underpinnings of the personhood movement and considers its future prospects with regard to abortion and other reproductive services.

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