BILLS WERE “AN ATTACK ON WOMEN’S HEALTH AND LIBERTY”
By Amy Lazenby || This week, a South Carolina Senate Judiciary Subcommittee considered two companion bills (S.83 and S.457) dealing with the controversial subject of granting “personhood” to a fertilized egg. These bills, together dubbed the “Personhood Act of South Carolina,” represented a significant attack on women’s health and reproductive freedom.
The acts “ESTABLISH THAT THE RIGHT TO LIFE FOR EACH BORN AND PREBORN HUMAN BEING VESTS AT FERTILIZATION, AND THAT THE RIGHTS OF DUE PROCESS AND EQUAL PROTECTION, GUARANTEED BY ARTICLE I, SECTION 3 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THIS STATE, VEST AT FERTILIZATION FOR EACH BORN AND PREBORN HUMAN PERSON.”
As written, the Personhood Act would have granted fertilized eggs the same rights, privileges and immunities as people. By giving legal rights to fertilized eggs, these bills threatened women’s access to hormonal birth control methods, including access to emergency contraception – even in cases of rape and incest – because they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus. By asserting that all legal protections vest at the moment of fertilization, the proposed legislation could have also impact laws as wide-ranging as those pertaining to when property rights are granted, inheritance rights and access to the courts.
If passed, The Personhood Act would have effectively outlawed multiple medications which have become basic health care for women. Hormonal birth control methods are used not only to prevent pregnancy, but are also prescribed to treat conditions ranging from polycystic ovary syndrome to iron deficiency anemia to pelvic inflammatory disease. In addition, the act is so broadly written that it could outlaw in vitro fertilization, a method used to achieve pregnancy which results in more than 33,000 live deliveries per year in the United States. Treatment options for these conditions should be left up to women and their doctors, not legislators with no medical training and no personal stake, who were attempting to pass a bill with broad implications that did not take into account the myriad of individual health circumstances that women face.
Proponents of this type of legislation believe that the the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution reserves to the states the right to decide when life begins. Supporters equate personhood with civil rights and believe that a fertilized egg, acted upon by any of the methods listed above, is being denied due process of law. Such arguments run directly counter to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe. V. Wade, which held that the earliest point of viability for a fetus was at 24 weeks gestation. Any law passed in opposition to that Supreme Court decision would have certainly faced a legal challenge, and the state of South Carolina would be forced to spend its limited financial resources fighting a long, losing battle in the courts.
After taking testimony from those both supportive of and opposed to the bills, this week’s subcommittee hearing adjourned debate without taking a vote, meaning that they will not move forward this legislative session. “We are thrilled that our elected officials stood by the women of South Carolina,” said Emma Davidson, Associate Director for Strategic Mobilization for Tell Them, which supports age-appropriate, medically accurate health education and increased access to high-quality reproductive health counseling and services. “For the 16th year in a row, lawmakers have rejected these draconian regulations that would severely limit standard medical care for women and families.”
Women can make their own health care decisions. So-called “Personhood Acts” treat them as less than adults capable of doing so and deny to women basic methods of medical management that they have relied upon for decades. They place the rights of a fertilized egg above those of a fully formed legal adult. Such bills should be seen as the blatant attacks on health and reproductive rights – which are not just women’s rights but human rights – that they are and stopped accordingly. Fortunately for the women of South Carolina, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee members this week did just that.