The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him (Proverbs 18:17).
Author’s note: The following is a rebuttal to an article on the Internet called Personhood and Abolition put out by a website called Abolish Abortion Wisconsin (AAWI). The article, which contains nothing much more than misinformation about Personhood, is anonymous. I am writing this as the director of The Forerunner and president of Personhood Florida Education. Nevertheless, this is not an “official” statement from any Personhood group. I do not speak for the national groups, Personhood USA or Personhood Alliance. That being said, I have spent countless hours speaking to the founders of both of these organizations. I believe I am representing their views accurately, although I need to emphasize that I cannot technically speak for them.
Please also see the links for The United States of America 2.0: The Great Reset. This is short primer on doctrine of nullification, which has been one of the foundational tenets of Personhood movement since its beginning. You may either order copies or I have posted all the articles that make up the booklet online for free.
What is Personhood?
Personhood stands for the total abolition of abortion with no exceptions.
In fact, we should state at the outset that you cannot stand for Personhood without standing for the complete and immediate abolition of abortion. One naturally flows from the other.
It has been perplexing to me to see that a movement that clearly states that they stand for the Personhood of the preborn and human beings at all stages of development – namely, a movement called Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) – has begun to misrepresent the goals of the Personhood movement. I know that some abolitionists understand and support Personhood. So I will not paint all of the AHA movement with a broad brush. The individuals in question are those who contributed to and posted the AAWI article. I would like to use this as an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings rather than bring divisiveness between two groups that otherwise share the same goal. Many abortion abolitionists, in fact, began with the Personhood movement, but some recently decided that Personhood somehow stands for something less than the abolition of abortion.
I am unsure what is the motivation of the author of the article. My hope is that it is simply due to bad communication by some who have misrepresented the goals Personhood. Nevertheless, there is a silver lining in that this article has brought to light a need to define and clarify what we have stood for since the beginning of the Personhood movement. Personhood is a no compromise view that most of us have held for many years. If some working on Personhood initiatives in the past decade have not understood this, then this article has brought this to light.
As the quotes from the founders of the Personhood movement will show, the author of the article either knowingly or negligently failed to dialog with them prior to presenting Personhood’s position incorrectly. In fact, none of the Personhood leaders I interviewed for this rebuttal had even seen the AAWI article before, although it has been posted for some time.
Not only does Personhood embrace the ideals and tenets of abolition, it goes far beyond the abolition of abortion. In fact, the current abortion abolition bills and amendment initiatives are “incrementalist” by comparison. That being said, Personhood advocates ought to endorse abolitionist bills and amendments to state constitutions as being totally in line with the goals of recognizing and protecting the God-given right to life of all human beings.
Whether or not abolitionists want to work for Personhood initiatives or start their own measures is not the concern here. There is room for as many “no compromise” initiatives as people are able to put forward. The objective of this article is not to criticize abolitionist efforts, but to appeal to those abolitionists who have spread misinformation to consider retracting it as untrue and detrimental to their own strategy of abolishing abortion.
Two Major Objections to Personhood: Timing and Language
In the beginning of the founding of Personhood Florida, we were told by Personhood USA co-founder, Cal Zastrow, that we would hear two common arguments against Personhood coming from other pro-life groups.
1. “We don’t think the timing is right for this.”
2. “We don’t like your initiative language.”
In other words, all national, state and local pro-life organizations will say they want to end all abortion. But their strategy to end all abortion is different from ours. The first objection can be handled by asking when would be a good time to end all child murder. If the organization is not currently working a plan to end all abortion, then it begs the question as to why they are not doing so. Many believe that their goal ought to be to overturn Roe v. Wade first and only then work state-by-state toward a Human Life Amendment. I’ll show below why that is not Personhood’s strategy, although we would agree with seeing Roe overturned.
The second objection can be handled by asking what language have they proposed that would end all abortion with no exceptions or compromise. If they have such a plan, then we will support it. But in nearly all cases, they have no such proposed legislation.
Abolish Abortion Wisconsin’s article touches on the second point and says that they believe that abolitionist language is better.
To abolish abortion it would be far better to use the language of abolition.
To which Personhood advocates should say, “Great! We support all such no compromise initiatives! We do not oppose any legal language that would end all abortion.”
However the article contains several examples of what is known as the “straw man fallacy.” This is an informal logical fallacy giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while presuming an argument that was not advanced by that opponent. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man.”
1. The “Reversing Roe” – straw man fallacy
The major flaw in the AAWI article occurs in the first sentence.
The personhood strategy was formulated as a result of the terms “person” and “personhood” being used by Justice Harry Andrew Blackmun in section 9 of his opinion in Roe v. Wade.
This is incorrect. This is a false premise and since the rest of the article argues from this point of view, every other point made in the article against the Personhood movement is consequently false.
In the words of Cal Zastrow, one of the founders of the Personhood movement, the goal has always been to encourage the states to “ignore Roe.” Here I quote Cal Zastrow in a recent on-line conversation on the topic of the AAWI article. I have edited his response for length and clarity.
Judie Brown [American Life League] was involved in the first Personhood efforts since the 1970s. The first ballot-access petition drive for a Personhood Amendment was in Michigan in 2005. We went to pro-life groups, churches, political groups, and politicians with these three questions:
1. Do you have a plan to stop all baby-murdering without exceptions or delays?
2. What is your plan?
3. How can we assist you with that plan?
Nobody had a plan, so we started with: “The term ‘person’ in Article 2, Section 16 of the Constitution of the State of Michigan shall be defined as a human being beginning at fertilization” – one sentence.
On our website, we called for immediatism; no exceptions; justice via having the laws against murder include the preborn, abortifacient contraceptives, IVF, etc. We also called for using gruesome pictures of murdered pre-natal babies; preaching the Gospel; advocating the need for Michigan to ignore Roe v. Wade and just stop the murdering now. We didn’t get enough signatures for ballot access, but folks in other states called and asked for help, so my family and I did so.
After we gained ballot-access in Colorado a year later, one other person and I started a national Personhood group. We got amendments and bills introduced in state legislatures while starting ballot-access petition drives, including two more successful ones within a couple of years…. Personhood began nationally and in Florida by calling upon states to ignore Roe….
The article by AAWI … is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. True, some Right to Life groups introduced false “Personhood” measures…. Instead of opposing all, it would be better to show the separation between the true and the false. Some Personhood amendments meet all of the criteria for approval by abolitionists and have been doing so long before they started calling themselves such.
No, the Personhood movement did not begin defining “person” because of Roe v. Wade. We defined it because the federal Constitution says, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” We went on to define that as “human beings, made in the image of God.” I understand, painfully, that not all groups are using our definition now, but some of us still hold to original usage and intent. I understand that some folks nowadays who use “Personhood” won’t use “murder” and no longer use “made in the image of God,” but some of us still do. (I actually use “murder” instead of the word “abortion.”)
Cal went on to describe the harm caused when some within Personhood groups in the beginning of the movement began attacking those who would not support petition drives. I have seen this personally among some here in Florida (who are no longer working with us) so I have experienced the harm that can be done by those sowing division.
That being said, I want to reiterate that the purpose of this piece is not to criticize those who call themselves abortion abolitionists, but to defend our efforts against distortions and misinformation. We are working toward the same goal of abolishing all abortion without exception or delay. Cal Zastrow finished his defense of Personhood with a plea. I repeat this plea here.
When abolitionists, whether in our state or nationally, feel the need to separate from pro-life people or organizations because they have compromised God’s law, they should do so. However, we all ought to remember the Lord’s view of sowing discord among brothers is in the same list as those who commit murder.
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19).
To reiterate the above with specifics, the Personhood strategy is the extension of what was laid down in the 1970s with Human Life Amendment efforts by some pro-life organizations and politicians. Several versions of a Human Life Amendment were filed in 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1980 following the Roe v. Wade decision.
Personhood made use of some of the same language in the national constitutional amendment proposals. The choice of words was not a reactionary strategy to respond to Harry Blackmun’s majority opinion. Every state Personhood Amendment was based on the language of the earlier national amendment language, such as the Hogan and Burke Amendments.
The Hogan Amendment
Introduced by Rep. Lawrence Hogan (R-MD) on January 30, 1973
Section 1. Neither the United States nor any State shall deprive any human being, from the moment of conception, of life without due process of law; nor deny to any human being, from the moment of conception, within its jurisdiction, the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Neither the United States nor any State shall deprive any human being of life on account of illness, age, or incapacity.
Section 3. Congress and the several States shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The Burke Amendment
Introduced by James Burke (D-MA) on September 12, 1973
Section 1. With respect to the right to life, the word ‘person,’ as used in this article and in the fifth and fourteenth articles of amendment to the Constitution of the United States, applies to all human beings, including their unborn offspring at every stage of their biological development, irrespective of age, health, function, or condition of dependency.
After many years without a hearing for a Human Life Amendment at the federal level, Cal Zastrow introduced a Personhood amendment at the state level in Michigan in 2005. The word “Person” rather than “human being” was chosen for state amendments because every single state constitution without exception speaks of “Persons” or “Natural Persons” having the right to life and liberty. The name “Personhood Amendment” was also chosen to avoid confusion with the national “Human Life Amendment.”
Following a meeting with Dan Becker of Georgia Right to Life, who had been using a similar “no exceptions” strategy since the 1980s, Cal Zastrow and Keith Mason went on to found Personhood USA in 2008. Colorado, Mississippi and North Dakota have voted on citizens initiatives and many more citizens initiatives and amendments have been proposed in other states.
Although no Personhood initiative has ever garnered more than 43 percent of the vote in any of the states where this has been tried, we do not see this as a defeat in that it has sparked a paradigm shift in the pro-life movement. More activists and organizations are moving from a strategy in which they “chip away at Roe with incremental laws” to a strategy in which the Personhood of all human beings is recognized and protected by love and by law.
The AAWI article is therefore based on a false premise.
Particular attention is paid to the wording in section 9A [of Roe v. Wade], which many claim is the Achilles heal [sic] in the Roe opinion that could be used to overturn the whole thing and make abortion illegal again. Blackmun’s mentioning of personhood in this section, however, is not an open ended invitation to somehow prove that the human organism has attained the status of personhood and thus subvert the Roe opinion and all of its bloody consequences. Neither is he suggesting that a vote of the people could overturn a Supreme Court decision – something we have learned through ample SCOTUS opinions that have resulted in thwarting not only the plain meaning of the Constitution, but the will of the people in enforcing the edicts of said document.
One fact that the AAWI article does cite correctly is that when Roe was decided, the writer of the majority opinion, Harry Blackmun, did state that since a Person has the right to life under the U.S. Constitution, then if the Personhood of a preborn child were established law, then Roe’s case would have collapsed.
If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment (Justice Harry Blackmun, Roe v. Wade).
The fact that Harry Blackmun spoke of the weakness in Roe’s argument was correct. However, it does not mean that the Supreme Court can nullify human rights any more than the Third Reich could redefine a human being as a “non-Jewish Aryan.” The state governors and legislatures never needed to submit to that. It has long been understood that fundamental human rights stated in the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Amendments cannot be reversed by a court decision. From the beginning of Personhood Florida in 2009, we have always said that we want the states to use the 5th, 10th and 14th amendments and the doctrine of nullification to counter the Supreme Court. We do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade. We want to ignore it.
2. “Personhood does not stand for nullification” – straw man fallacy
The best chance personhood has for success is through the interposition of lesser magistrates who would be willing to defy the courts and declare that abortion is already covered under the state’s murder statutes on the basis of the personhood of the unborn – and then act on that declaration.
Not only do we agree with this statement, but as I will show, Personhood was founded on this premise. Furthermore, many of us involved in promoting Personhood initiatives have been advocating the strategy of using state nullification of federal tyranny for 10, 20 and even 30 years.
The foundational error in the logic of the AAWI article is the presumption that Personhood advocates look to the Supreme Court as the arbiter of “establishing” who is a person. The view of the founders of Personhood is that this is an eternal truth established by God. The right to life is also written as a “self-evident” truth in the Declaration of Independence and repeated several times in the U.S. Constitution. The humanity of the preborn was also recognized by numerous case laws prior to Roe. This case was decided in error and the states never needed to change their laws in subservience to an activist court that has no authority to make laws.
This is evidenced in the rhetoric of some of the most recent Personhood bills now being advanced in several states. One of the strongest Personhood advocates in the state of Alabama, Samuel J. McLure, has launched an initiative called, Proposal 16. Their website proclaims that the states have the power to nullify Roe.
Did you know that every governor since Roe v. Wade has had the power and obligation to defend innocent human life in Alabama and prevent the murder of Alabama babies? Governors haven’t stepped in, either because they aren’t pro-life or they fear physical or economic reprisal from the Federal government. No more.
Just like former president Obama refused to enforce federal marijuana laws, we believe President Trump will hold back his hand from enforcing the unjust federal abortion rulings in the States.
Now is the time to send the faulty premises of Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, end the barbarous practice of abortion, allow women to be the mamas their babies need, and give every human being their God-given and constitutional right to life (www.proposal16.com).
This is exactly the philosophy Personhood has been promoting for years. Judicial supremacy is a myth and courts cannot nullify God-given rights long ago recognized by our laws.
We asked Alaska Right to Life (a.k.a. Personhood Alaska) director, Christopher Kurka, to comment on the AAWI article.
I had not seen this [AAWI] article before. Clearly the author is very misinformed.… As you know, I have always advocated for state nullification and interposition for Personhood efforts. I first learned about the myth of judicial supremacy, nullification and interposition from Bob Bird (former AKRTL President) during his 2008 campaign for US Senate. Since then I have pushed the ideas, but have never written on them before.
A book by Personhood Alliance, Personhood: The Tree of Life, has a chapter entitled “The Myth of Judicial Supremacy” by Christopher Kurka that deals with the idea of nullification and interposition by the states. The editor of the book, Dan Becker, has stated on numerous occasions that he has advocated for nullification since 1988 as an alternative to overturning Roe.
Dan Becker’s previous book, Personhood, discusses nullification as part of our strategy and denies that the sole reason for the purpose of the Personhood movement is to challenge Roe.
To return the right to ban abortion at a state level would require the reversal or nullification of the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade …. Government cannot be allowed the prerogative of claiming to define a right that has never been within its rightful jurisdiction. The right to life comes from God, not government. Personhood is the human rights movement of the 21st century, not an attorney’s playground….” (Dan Becker, Personhood, 33,34, emphasis mine).
Personhood has always stood for the nullification by the states if overturning Roe is not possible. It is not an either/or proposition. Personhood is a human rights issue. We do not believe that the states must bow down to the Supreme Court as vassals to a feudal overlord. Regardless of whether Roe can be overturned, nullification is a right guaranteed to the states under the United States Constitution.
Les Riley, the director of another state Personhood affiliate, also testifies to the early promotion of the nullification doctrine by Personhood Mississippi, one of the first states to launch a petition effort.
It is ignorance at best, or intentional misrepresentation at worst, to make the statement that Personhood does not stand for nullification of Roe. I advocated for ignoring Roe, challenging judicial supremacy and calling on state and local magistrates to interpose – including arresting abortionists and defying not only usurpations by the federal judiciary, but also by legislative and executive branches, up to and including secession over this issue. I was an advocate for this in word and in published articles, public speeches, sermons as early as 1992, and in lobbying and campaigning as early as 1995.
This very matter, in fact, was foundational to Personhood Mississippi and was the subject of literature, articles featured on our web site, speeches, media interviews, public meetings and private strategy sessions from the very beginning – through the petition drive and campaign – and beyond the vote on the Mississippi Personhood Amendment. Calling the pro-life industry out, calling the church and the civil magistrate to repentance, obedience, keeping their oath of office (civil magistrates) and engaging the death culture with the Gospel was completely and overtly integrated into our efforts.
For more information on the principles of interposition and nullification, I have written a short booklet entitled, The United States of America 2.0: The Great Reset. The booklet may be read on-line for free. Again, this is not a new idea for me, but I wrote the bulk of the material that makes up the book over 20 years ago.
We have also frequently used the example of the Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court decision, which stated in 1958 that a black slave was property and did not have the same right to liberty as an American citizen. Ironically, Dred Scott was never overturned by the Supreme Court. It took a United States’ constitutional amendment to reverse the Dred Scott decision. However, Christians should never say that a court decision or a constitutional amendment was the basis for the right to the liberty of all the people born in America. The right to life and liberty is a God-given right. And on that basis, states have the right to nullify Roe.
We will never stop until our courts or legislatures have reversed or nullified this misguided ruling. We do not fear a negative ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. Historically, a bad ruling has in fact served as the very catalyst for change in public policy. Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1858, ruled that a black person could not be a citizen under our law…. This adverse ruling did much to fuel to the abolitionist movement; our country engaged in civil war before the law recognized the full Personhood of Blacks. In point of fact, the ruling per se was never reversed. By the same token, we shouldn’t wait on an overturning of Roe v. Wade before engaging in public dialogue. The need for Personhood policy is now, regardless of Roe’s final disposition! Ours is a 21st century human rights movement and must not be summarized by a single legal objective! (Dan Becker, Personhood, 76,77, emphasis mine).
Personhood has always used the abolition of slavery argument and the corresponding denial of the citizenship (i.e., legal Personhood) of black slaves in the Dred Scott decision as analogous to the Personhood debate. We do not believe that the Supreme Court has the power to decide what is a moral right. Moral rights are based on laws given by God alone as Creation ordinances.
The ultimate problem at the time of Roe v. Wade was not the courts, but the liberal (and even some “conservative”) churches that already supported some forms of abortion. If they had been united in opposition against abortion, Roe could have been resisted. From the beginning of the Roe decision, each pro-life group in America has agreed that the ultimate goal is to get a national Human Life Amendment. If that was not immediately possible, the strategy was to go state-by-state to pass laws and ratify amendments to the state constitutions.
In short, the overturning of Roe as a result of the challenge of a state Personhood Amendment is not the foundational strategy of Personhood. Given the plain statements by the founders of the Personhood movement, the false assumption that the Personhood strategy was formulated as a result of the wording of Blackmun’s opinion cannot stand in the light of hard evidence.
3. The term “Personhood” does not represent the “Imago Dei” – strawman fallacy
Switching the rhetoric from “personhood” to “human,” the “Imago Dei” – that is, human, created in the image of God, and from there to the Incarnation …
The above thought begins a long sentence fragment that concludes the AAWI article. The proposition is difficult to quote cogently. However, in so many words, the argument here is that “Personhood” is not biblical term, but a humanistic concession to natural law theory. Instead, we ought to use the term, “human being,” because this is a more accurate expression of the truth that we are made in the image of God.
It has always been understood in constitutional law that the terms, “persons,” “natural persons,” “human beings” and “men” are exactly synonymous. So this seems to be an argument based on making a distinction without a difference.
The new book, Personhood: The Tree of Life, edited by Dan Becker of Personhood Alliance, does a good job in establishing the biblical definition and basis for Personhood. In summary, the idea of the Personhood of all human beings is bound up in the idea that God created man in His own image. God is three “Persons” – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in “One God.” This is the doctrine of the Trinity. The way in which God has relationship with man is through the Persons of the Trinity. We are each created in the image of God from the moment of conception – not only as members of the species Homo sapiens – but as a special creation – a unique person made in the image of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Furthermore, Christians are adopted as children of the Person of the Father. We are born-again because the Person of the Holy Spirit dwells in us. That is why human beings have a special place in creation and may not be wantonly killed with impunity.
It is insufficient to argue that human beings as a member of the species, Homo sapiens, have the right to life unless we first recognize that these human beings are made in God’s own image. Whether they are “persons,” “humans” or “men,” we still need to begin with the idea of the imago Dei.
In addition, the argument that we should not use the word, “Person,” is another straw man since, for several years, the Personhood Florida Amendment has used the following language.
The God-given right to life of every human being at any stage of development shall be recognized and protected. This provision shall be deemed to supersede any other inconsistent provisions [emphasis mine].
The second clause refers to the fact that our own liberal activist Florida Supreme Court found a “right to abortion” in the Florida state constitution (where none exists). Although this was decided in error, it should not be ignored in subsequent constitutional language. The Personhood Florida amendment would nullify this decision.
AAWI says we err by using the term “person” rather than “human being.” Not only is this illogical in that the two are synonyms, but it also untrue. We use the term “human being” as do many other Personhood groups in their amendment language. AAWI says we err by appealing to the authority of the Supreme Court rather than God’s Law. That is untrue as well since the amendment states that there is a “God-given right to life.”
4: There is no such thing as a “right to life” – fallacy
Another perplexing argument I heard recently from a few Abolish Human Abortion leaders is that the “right to life” is not a biblical concept. They say that instead of speaking of human “rights” we ought to be dealing solely with the biblical prohibition of murder and abolishing abortion because it is the murder of the preborn child.
It might seem a ridiculous argument to be having, but I have actually encountered this proposition several times from abolitionists. So here I will deal with the biblical basis for the “right to life.”
A lot here depends on our definitions. It is well-known adage that in any debate whoever asks the questions and defines the terms wins the argument. So at the outset, we have to define what we mean by a “God-given human right.”
The word “rights” in civil law has always been synonymous with the word “liberties.” Prior to the United States Bill of Rights (1791) was the English Bill of Rights and Liberties (1689). There was also a document called the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641). Both of these documents, together with several others, were the basis for the language contained in the United States’ Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The English Bill of Rights and Liberties always uses the two terms together. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties only uses the term “liberties,” but it was understood that “rights and liberties,” were synonymous. Of course, the term liberty is an often-used biblical word that describes both civil liberty and the freedom we have in Christ.
In addition, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties is a good example of how legal prohibitions against infringing on human rights are based on God-given laws contained in the Bible. After listing over 90 “liberties,” the document lists the commandments of Scripture – as the basis of the sanctions of the civil law that punish crime.
However, these negative sanctions of God’s law are based on the positive commandments God had given from the beginning. These positive laws are otherwise known as the “Creation ordinances” that existed prior to the time that sin entered the world. Murder is prohibited because God made man in His own image (Genesis 1:27; 9:6). Adultery and sexual immorality are prohibited because God ordained marriage from the beginning as one man and one woman (Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 19:5,6). Theft is prohibited because God from the beginning commanded men as individuals to take dominion of the earth (Genesis 1:28: 9:1; Psalms 8:6), to own and care for the earth and to obtain personal wealth (Genesis 2:5,8; Deuteronomy 8:18). Thus all the negative sanctions of the law flow from the liberties and positive commandments of God that He gave even prior to sin entering the world in these Creation ordinances.
The application of the law prohibiting murder can be applied to abortion because God made man in His image and each of us has the right to life regardless of the stage of development or circumstances of our conception. Among all created beings subject to the law of sin and death, only human beings possess “personhood” because only human beings were created in the image of God. So while the law of God prohibits abuse of His creation, cruelty to animals, the waste of natural resources, etc., the law prohibiting murder applies only to judicially innocent human beings.
We cannot have a negative without a positive. We do not have any basis on which to say child murder; the violation of the dignity of human life; same-sex marriage; perverse sexuality; etc. is criminal unless we first value all life as made in God’s image. This was a creation ordinance. It is only when we change our cultural morality to respect the dignity and sanctity of all life will abortion become unthinkable. And only then will it be considered criminal by our judges and lawmakers – although it is already criminal in the sight of God.
All the laws pertaining to these human rights and liberties can be summed up in one term: Personhood.
To summarize, both “Personhood” and the “right to life” have a solid biblical basis and are perfectly suitable as a description of Christian ethics on abortion and all sanctity and dignity of life issues.
#5: The “Magic Bullet” fallacy
Another flaw that is not mentioned in the AAWI article, but needs to be addressed is what some of us call the “Magic Bullet” fallacy. I have heard people say when presenting Personhood is that if we pass an amendment recognizing and protecting all human life, that this will automatically end all abortion.
To quote Personhood USA founder Keith Mason, “That would not be the end of our battle, but a beginning of a new war on all fronts.”
First, a Personhood Amendment would need to be backed up by legislation. Even a constitutional amendment that states all abortion is murder needs corresponding legislation that would either repeal state abortion laws that include exceptions or affirm the criminality of abortion using the same criteria as that for homicide and murder.
Second, passing a Personhood Amendment in one state would necessitate passing identical measures in other states. Ultimately, we would need a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution to protect life in all 50 states. That has always been the goal of the pro-life movement. The difference with Personhood advocates and other pro-life groups is that we have a plan to succeed in at least 38 states by passing a state Personhood Amendment with similar or identical language that would then become the model for a national Human Life Amendment. To ratify such an Amendment would require at least 38 states would have to pass it through their legislatures. The goal of Personhood is not to overturn Roe, but to eventually ratify a Human Life Amendment to the United States Constitution that could not be nullified by any liberal abortion law.
To win the war, we do not need to overturn Roe. As in the case when Dred Scott was nullified by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, we only need to nullify Roe with a national amendment and in the meantime we can nullify it at the state level. However, we cannot be naïve and assume that Christians are ready to support this at the moment. A great work of education and a great degree of unity towards this cause needs to be achieved first. We have made this one of the primary goals of Personhood. Therefore, it does not help when people spread fallacies and misinformation about one of our foundational goals. It only fosters division.
The Position of Personhood Florida on the “Florida Abolish Abortion” Amendment
I was recently asked by an abortion abolitionist who I consider to be a good friend about Personhood Florida’s position on various “abortion abolitionist” initiatives and laws in several states throughout the country. Our policy in Personhood Florida is that we endorse bills, initiatives and measures that would defend life without exceptions. Therefore, we support the language of the “rival” Florida Abolish Abortion amendment. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you cannot say you are really for Personhood if you oppose such measures.
Of course, we would prefer that people would work together with us on one citizens initiative — the Personhood Amendment — and we have devoted our efforts and resources to that. The policy that we have adopted is that we will share data and resources with any organization that comes alongside us and helps with Personhood petitioning.
The only caveat is that we believe that the Florida Abolish Abortion Amendment ought to go further than it does. It addresses the “abortion” of “unborn human beings,” which is good. However, it is silent on other right to life and dignity of life issues. We believe that the Personhood Amendment would do more to recognize and protect the sanctity and dignity of life of all human beings. The Personhood Amendment would address ethical concerns related to end of life issues, emerging bio-technologies, eugenics, cloning, stem cell research, human animal hybrids, ectogenesis (artificial wombs), artificial intelligence, “Personhood rights” for animals, and so on. Therefore, people who want to address these issues should work together to accomplish that.
On the other hand, seeing the great work that is to be done to transform the culture of our state to one that would defend the life of all human beings, we welcome having as many initiatives as people have the energy to try to accomplish. All initiatives are educational, evangelistic and missionary opportunities for those willing to work in the field gathering signatures. As we do this, we must understand that our primary work is to change hearts and minds.
Another possible problem with the constitutionality of the Florida Abolish Abortion amendment is that it imposes criminal sanctions on abortion through constitutional language. While we should obviously support criminal penalties for abortion since it is child murder, it is well-known that constitutional law gives state and federal legislatures the authority to legislate and impose sanctions. In the hundreds of pages comprising the Florida constitutional amendments, there is not one amendment that criminalizes anything. It is understood that the legislature must pass corresponding legislation to uphold constitutional law and repeal laws that are unconstitutional. This includes criminalizing illegal acts under our state constitution.
Thus the “magic bullet” fallacy applies here too. Any amendment to the Florida Constitution would need to be backed up with legislation originating in the house and senate, and signed by the governor of the state of Florida. An amendment may direct these bodies to pass punitive laws.
We were told by our constitutional lawyer, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, whose organization of constitutional law experts helped us pen the current Personhood Florida Amendment language.
The Florida Constitution does not specify a specific criminal punishment for a specific provision. It does authorize the death penalty, but the legislature is the one to assign the death penalty to a specific crime. It does prohibit certain penalties, such as no imprisonment for a debt or that minors may be considered delinquent instead of found guilty of committing a crime. There is nothing to say that the Constitution cannot include a penalty for a violation. Including a penalty does make it unique to the Florida Constitution.
In short, while there is not necessarily anything that would prohibit criminalizing abortion by constitutional amendment, as the abolitionist initiative attempts to do, there is no precedent for it either. Normally, the language of an amendment directs the legislature to enact laws consistent with the amendment.
The last point to be made is that the Personhood Amendment is different in that it is Gospel-centered. It includes language stating that the right to life of all human beings is “God-given.” This is the same language used in our Florida Constitution, but is sadly ignored by every single other amendment dealing with human rights — including the Florida Abolish Abortion amendment.
The best answer to this question that I have heard comes from Michele Herzog, of Pro-life Action Ministries of Central Florida, a friend and long-time advocate for life since the mid-1980s here in Florida and other states.
When Personhood is restored by love and by law to the preborn human being, the preborn will be recognized as a human being and will therefore have the same protection as the born. Thus it would be a crime to harm the preborn. It is all about recognizing and protecting the God-given right to life of all human beings at any stage of development. It is the only hope and way for freedom for the unborn. Abortion will be abolished when Personhood is recognized.
The Personhood Paradigm represents a shift in the pro-life movement toward a Christ-centered, full-orbed Gospel message that includes no exceptions and no compromise. Our goal is to recognize and protect the God-given right to life of all human beings.
In conclusion, the AAWI article misinforms by relying on speculation in order to come to a conclusion. They did not discuss their conclusions with any of the founders of the Personhood movement. Personhood leaders were not given the chance to answer with any objections.
The purpose of this article is to offer the counterargument and cite evidence that the AAWI article relies on misinformation as the basis of its claims. It is hoped also that proponents of Personhood reading this will better understand and communicate the goals of Personhood as we move forward to recognize and protect all human life, which includes abolishing abortion.
My gut feeling in reading this is that the author of the AAWI article is not really concerned about the terms “Personhood” and “Right to Life” as much as this is about territorialism.
In short, he doesn’t want any other groups besides AHA-associated people to get have the notoriety of being uncompromisingly against abortion. So he just makes stuff up out of thin air.
It’s less about convincing thoughtful people than it is about brainwashing those in his own circle who have already drunk their kool-aide.