Personhood is a shift back to a Christ-centered view on the sanctity of life and all dignity of life issues. We begin with a recognition of the dignity of the human person at all stages of development due to the image of God in all human beings, the imago Dei.
To understand the Personhood strategy, you simply have to look at three passages in the Bible, which are easy to remember, Genesis 1, Jeremiah 1 and Luke 1.
Genesis 1:26 – Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.
Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Luke 1:39-45 – Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
Personhood represents a paradigm shift in the pro-life movement. We begin with scripture and insist that the right to life is God-given. We are all created in the image of God. In fact, we were made in God’s image from our biological beginning in the womb.
Years ago, I first heard someone say that the political end of the pro-life movement failed at its inception because it was never Christ-centered and you can’t fight a demonic force with natural weapons. We hear the phrase, “You can’t fight Goliath in Saul’s armor.” This means that man’s efforts will fail, but God’s plan for victory is according to His plan.
At first, I thought it was a cynical comment. Finally, I realized that the truth is far worse than that. Our struggle does not begin and end with abortion. Abortion is just an obvious outcropping of a deep spiritual problem we have as a culture in failing to recognize some of the most fundamental of all biblical truths.
A Brief History of the Recent Pro-Life Movement
To explain why the Personhood paradigm is much larger than just a plan to end abortion, we first need to understand a bit of history.
Roe v. Wade did not establish a women’s right to choose abortion. It established the right to privacy concerning the abortion procedure and was meant to protect doctors from criminal proceedings.
The Personhood of the unborn child is already established in many of our laws. Case in point: Ariel Castro, a man in Cleveland who was convicted of kidnapping and continually raping three women over a period of years, as well as the killing of a preborn child, was sentenced to life imprisonment. He could have been sentenced to death had he not pleaded guilty to first degree murder. Ironically, he later committed suicide in prison. In this case, the law recognized the Personhood of the preborn child that Castro conceived through rape.
Charles Van Zant, a Florida state representative from Keystone Heights, has said that Roe established a “loophole in the law governing murder.” This assessment is a valid interpretation of the law concerning the personhood of the preborn. We recognize forced abortion as killing in some cases, but we make exceptions for the criminality of murder in other cases.
Paradigm Shift #1 — The Bishops’ Plan
At the time Roe v. Wade was passed, the only large religious body that had an active plan to end abortion was the Roman Catholic Church. Most Protestant denominations were either silent on the issue and some even issued statements of agreement with Roe. Now we would expect that from liberal bodies such as the United Methodist Church, the Episcopalian Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Church of Christ (Congregationalists), the PCUSA. We expect a weak view on the pro-life issue from the unorthodox — the Seventh Day Adventists, the Unitarians, the Mormons and so on.
Much to our shame, some evangelicals joined the chorus of briefs that were written in favor of Roe. Even the conservative Southern Baptist Convention prior to 1973 called on all Baptists to work for abortion rights.
Resolution On Abortion, adopted at the SBC, June 1971:
WHEREAS, Christians in the American society today are faced with difficult decisions about abortion; and
WHEREAS, Some advocate that there be no abortion legislation, thus making the decision a purely private matter between a woman and her doctor; and
WHEREAS, Others advocate no legal abortion, or would permit abortion only if the life of the mother is threatened;
Therefore, be it RESOLVED, that this Convention express the belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves; and
Be it further RESOLVED,
That we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.
Resolution On Abortion And Sanctity Of Human Life, adopted at the SBC convention, June 1974:
WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have historically held a high view of the sanctity of human life, and
WHEREAS, The messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis in 1971 adopted overwhelmingly a resolution on abortion, and
WHEREAS, That resolution reflected a middle ground between the extreme of abortion on demand and the opposite extreme of all abortion as murder, and
WHEREAS, That resolution dealt responsibly from a Christian perspective with complexities of abortion problems in contemporary society;
Therefore, be it RESOLVED, that we reaffirm the resolution on the subject adopted by the messengers to the St. Louis Southern Baptist Convention meeting in 1971, and
Be it further RESOLVED, that we continue to seek God’s guidance through prayer and study in order to bring about solutions to continuing abortion problems in our society.
Resolution On Abortion, adopted at the SBC convention, June 1976:
WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have historically held a biblical view of the sanctity of human life, and
WHEREAS, Abortion is a very serious moral and spiritual problem of continuing concern to the American people, and
WHEREAS, Christians have a responsibility to deal with all moral and spiritual issues which affect society, including the problems of abortion, and
WHEREAS, The practice of abortion for selfish non-therapeutic reasons want-only destroys fetal life, dulls our society’s moral sensitivity, and leads to a cheapening of all human life, and
WHEREAS, Every decision for an abortion, for whatever reason must necessarily involve the decision to terminate the life of an innocent human being.
Therefore be it RESOLVED, that the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Norfolk in June 1976 reaffirm the biblical sacredness and dignity of all human life, including fetal life, and
Be it further RESOLVED, that we call on Southern Baptists and all citizens of the nation to work to change those attitudes and conditions which encourage many people to turn to abortion as a means of birth control, and
Be it further RESOLVED, that in the best interest of our society, we reject any indiscriminate attitude toward abortion, as contrary to the biblical view, and
Be it further RESOLVED, that we also affirm our conviction about the limited role of government in dealing with matters relating to abortion, and support the right of expectant mothers to the full range of medical services and personal counseling for the preservation of life and health.
This complicity in the abortion holocaust is a dark stain on the evangelical movement. It ought to give us cause to pause and consider that evangelicals were in large part responsible for legal abortion. Although most evangelical churches eventually shifted toward a no compromise position, the initial confusion hurt the burgeoning pro-life movement and delayed activism.
The Catholic Bishops’ plan was a comprehensive, state-by-state plan to pass a Human Life Amendment at the federal US Constitutional level, but it also included a grassroots strategy of passing state laws and amendments and using the “states’ rights” clause of the tenth amendment to resist federal tyranny in the form of legalized child killing.
The Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, to their great credit, refused to compromise with the “exception clauses” of Roe for rape, incest and the health of the mother. Sadly, they didn’t have the support of the majority of Americans and especially of the large Protestant church denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, who would not join in an uncompromising, no exceptions stance. The Bishops’ Plan failed in part because many state and federal legislators were only willing to support a plan that had the “exceptions.”
This was the first split in the pro-life movement.
Paradigm Shift #2 — The Hyde Amendment
In 1976, Representative Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) sponsored an amendment to the Federal Budget appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). His amendment denied Medicaid funding for abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger or she is pregnant as a result of rape or incest, but only if the woman reports the incident at the time of its occurrence. Despite opposition from pro-abortion groups, Hyde attached this amendment every year to the same appropriations bill. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Hyde amendment (Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 100 S. Ct. 2671, 65 L. Ed. 2d 784 ; McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 81 S. Ct. 1101, 6 L. Ed. 2d 393 ). See: After Roe v. Wade.
Congress altered the Hyde Amendment several times. The version in force from 1981 until 1993 prohibited the use of federal funds for abortions “except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.” Then in 1993, President Clinton signed into law a new version of the Hyde Amendment that expanded the category of abortions for which federal funds are available under Medicaid to include cases of rape and incest.
The Hyde Amendment was opposed in the beginning by the Catholic Bishops, since it included the “exceptions,” but supported by several evangelical groups who had by now joined the pro-life movement. Although there is evidence that some lives have been saved due to the Hyde Amendment, Personhood advocates worry that any law that allows child murder in certain cases actually strengthens the pro-abortion agenda. It undermines our argument that abortion is child murder. Other life advocates argue that the “exceptions” become a necessity to save some lives even while they “chip away” at Roe and try to eliminate abortion incrementally and gradually.
Paradigm Shift #3 — Personhood
The modern Personhood movement was begun by Georgia Right to Life president Dan Becker. Personhood came about when Becker sought to revive the strategy of the Bishops’ Plan focusing on passing a Human Life Amendment to the state constitution of Georgia. Ironically, the evangelicals now lined up behind Becker’s agenda, while National Right to Life and the Catholic Bishops now opposed it (although the local policy has recently changed in some states such as North Dakota). Their reasoning as I just outlined was that any state law or amendment that did not have the exceptions was unacceptable as a sound strategy to chip away at Roe.
In 2008, Personhood USA was established by Cal Zastrow and Keith Mason, who are now working toward legislative and voter initiatives in over 30 states. In every state where it has been tried, several “pro-life” organizations, including Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, National Right to Life and the Catholic Bishops have opposed Personhood.
It’s ironic that now several conservative “pro-life” commentators, such as Sean Hannity, hold the view that the exceptions are necessary in order to pass restrictive legislation — even though the Roe decision was framed around these very exceptions! They want to reverse Roe as a decision even while they keep it in place through legislation.
In terms of paradigm shifts, compared to where we were at in 1973, the pro-life movement now stands on its head.
Why Personhood now?
The shift in the pro-life movement is to go back to square one and define that a human being is a Person from biological beginnings with no exceptions for the circumstances of conception.
Already the nation of Mexico, where the capital city recently made abortion legal, about half of the state legislatures have passed Personhood Amendments that would keep the federal government from imposing abortion on the states from above as occurred with Roe v. Wade in the United States. In our country, we now have to work backward and pass Personhood even while trying various ways to undo Roe. The reality is that we cannot do one without the other. Overturning Roe won’t make abortion illegal in each state. Passing Personhood won’t supersede Roe. Now we have two tasks to accomplish at one time.
But this strategy has already worked in Mexico. Poland is moving toward having Personhood in their national constitution. The nation of Hungary has the first constitution of the 21st century. Hungary has the following in their newly written constitution:
“Human dignity is inviolable. Everyone has the right to life and human dignity; the life of a fetus will be protected from conception.”
Personhood is a worldwide movement led by the Holy Spirit. The focus of pro-life groups in many countries around the world is shifting from regulating abortion to defining what a Person is.
Pro-life advocates in our own country support Personhood philosophically almost without exception. The only difference between Personhood advocates and the rest of the pro-life movement is a disagreement over timing. They want to wait to stack the Supreme Court bench with conservatives and overturn Roe. We want a grassroots movement that will vote on Personhood amendments now. I often tell people that if we work toward Personhood now, we will eventually get there. If we delay our obedience, then we will be counted among those who opposed Personhood even when our support was needed the most.
The Biological Time Bomb
There is a biological time bomb ticking. The advances we saw in physics and chemistry in the early 20th century resulted in major paradigm shifts in those sciences. Biology is lagging behind, but huge advances are around the corner. Philosophers and religious leaders have thought about the issues surrounding life, death and immortality for thousands of years, but the structure of the DNA molecule has been known for less than 60 years.
What does that mean? It usually takes a generation or more for a major discovery to percolate through an entire scientific field. The major battles that Personhood advocates will fight in the next 50 years will have nothing to do with abortion. In fact, abortion may all but disappear due to advances in science. In a couple of years, a woman will be able to walk into any store and buy an over-the-counter fertility monitor that may be worn as a watch. This will have the function of telling within a 99.9 percent certainty when the wearer is fertile.
Technology can be used for both good and evil. We should welcome these advances and prepare to use them to save lives. We certainly won’t be able to stop the bio-technological tidal wave that is coming. We’ll also have scanning devices within the next ten years that will be able to “see” in real time the baby as it develops in the womb — not just during a trip to a doctor — but through an “ultrasound baby monitor” that may be worn at all times just like today’s heart monitors.
Medical technology will be used to save lives in a greater capacity than ever before. Abortion will become increasingly intolerable as a “choice” for women.
However, with this biological time bomb, there is a Pandora’s Box of new possibilities that bring serious moral, legal and ethical questions. There is on the horizon the possibility of cloning, genetic engineering, eugenics, embryonic experimentation, organ harvesting, human-animal hybrids, euthanasia, nano-technology, advanced artificial intelligence, “cyborgism,” “post-humanism,” “trans-humanism,” and so on. This might seem like science fiction to you, but if you are part of Generation-Y, you will live to deal with the social conflict these developments in bio-technology will cause.
Personhood.net has a must-see presentation on these emerging bio-technologies.
The paradigm shift that we see coming is based on the fact that most pro-choice advocates are actually pro-Personhood once we take the concepts of “anti-abortion” and “pro-life” out of the argument. There is a 50-50 split over the topic of abortion, with many in the “mushy middle” advocating some type of compromise. Over 90 percent of college students interviewed agree that such horrors as eugenics and experimentation on living fetuses ought to be illegal. When they are asked to provide the rationale for their stance, they will often invariably say that this is a developing human being and ought to have the right to dignity.
It is imperative that we seize the opportunity to create cognitive dissonance in the minds of young people who may otherwise think of themselves as pro-choice, perhaps due to the pressure to be politically correct, but are otherwise in favor of Personhood as the only alternative to what they see as Nazi eugenics and other dehumanizing abominations. From there the mental shift to recognizing the full Personhood of the unborn child without exception is just a short step away.
Another resource, The Abortion Matrix, is a video seminar and DVD was developed to enlighten Christians to the spiritual reality of this fight.
Education, Constitutional Initiative, Legislation/Political Action
If you haven’t worked for the Personhood Amendment, there is still time to get involved. People ask me when we are going to be on the ballot in Florida. In fact, this is a battle we will be fighting for the long term. We are a young movement. Florida has a much more difficult requirement than any other state to get a constitutional amendment initiative on the ballot — except for maybe California.
In reality, we are in the foundational stages. Personhood Florida is the first state affiliate of Personhood USA, which itself about five years old, and we are working closely with the national organization to establish a protocol for all state affiliates. We began as a single issue PAC, which sponsored the amendment. In 2013, we filed for recognition as a 501c3 organization, which does the education. Then we are in the process of filing our 501c4 which will handle fundraising for the ballot amendment and political action, legislation and campaigning.
We have three goals, education, the citizens’ initiative and then legislation, political lobbying and endorsing candidates who endorse Personhood.
The important point we should be clear about. Personhood is not about overturning Roe v. Wade or even about abortion primarily – we are thinking about sanctity of life issues that are 50 years down the road – and that is how we can win – by recognizing the sanctity of life by defining what a Person is. Personhood is due to the image of God present in all human beings. We are not asking government to define Personhood – we are asking government to recognize it as an inalienable right.
We don’t see much of a downside to the next Personhood vote in November. Win or lose, we believe that we will be the winners in the long run because as the Personhood movement gains national attention we will gain the momentum needed to advance in other states, the nation and the world.