Group launches campaign to convince people that even a zygote is a person.
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It’s to be expected that a movement to define personhood from the moment of conception of a human being would draw opposition from people supporting the legality of abortion. But the personhood movement in the United States also has been met with opposition from established pro-life groups.
Efforts to amend several state constitutions to include the concept of personhood have so far failed, in part because of of such pro-life opposition, personhood advocates say. A 2011 effort in Mississippi failed after facing “friendly fire” from other pro-life factions who feared jeopardizing protections already on the books.
Now, the movement is setting up camp in New York State, where they are bound to be met with push-back from at least the pro-abortion side.
After all, New York City has sometimes been called the abortion capital of America.
On Saturday, nearly 100 persons gathered on Long Island to hear arguments on why they should support the movement. Speakers at Personhood Education New York’s debut conference included Dan Becker, founder of the National Personhood Alliance, who explained that personhood is a “broad guiding principle” guaranteeing equal rights for the preborn, disabled, elderly, and infirm.
On its website, Personhood New York says it "seeks to protect all human beings from its first biological beginnings to natural death with no exceptions." It says it is a State Affiliate of Personhood USA and National Personhood Alliance.
Despite facing what seems to be an uphill battle, Becker and other pro-life advocates like him still see the idea of personhood as essential to the eventual success of the anti-abortion movement.
“If we’re ever going to have any meaningful restrictions on abortion, we have to go after the central holding of Roe v. Wade,” stated conference speaker Robert Muise, senior counsel and co-founder of American Freedom Law Center. “One of the best ways to do that is to have a state pass a constitutional amendment” that defines persons as including the unborn, and then fight the inevitable legal challenges all the way to the Supreme Court, he continued.
“We have at least four votes” on the Supreme Court in favor of changing or overturning Roe v. Wade, with Justice Kennedy being the swing vote, Muise noted. The pro-life movement shouldn’t “settle for just honorable mention” but should implement a full-bore strategy to seek the end of abortion, and that strategy includes personhood, he said.
Personhood amendments would not lead directly to prosecution under any existing law, Becker claimed. “A constitutional amendment requires enabling legislation,” he explained. Moreover, the courts must grapple with how to apply the concept of personhood on a case-by-case basis depending on the particular statute invoked, he continued.
Ayesha Kreutz, president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, presented the issue of personhood as it applies to the minority community. She likened the fight over abortion to the fight over slavery. “When they’re not a person, you can whip them, beat them, do whatever you want to them, and that’s exactly what’s happening to the child in the womb,” stated Kreutz.
Blacks are the number one consumers of abortion services throughout the country, she said, citing statistics that blacks constitute 14% of the population but 37% of aborted children. It amounts to “depopulation,” she said. “In places like New York City, there’s more abortions than there are live births to blacks,” she explained. The arguments against granting personhood to the unborn will sound very similar to arguments denying similar rights to slaves, she said, and the black community will relate to that.
Kreutz became involved in the prolife movement when she was contemplating her third abortion. “I have three living children, and I had almost three abortions,” she said sadly. “I almost aborted my youngest child,” she added, since she was a single mother who already had two children. But prolife activists “saved my baby,” and then “the Lord just pressed on my heart” to become personally involved in the prolife movement, she went on to explain.
Also speaking at Saturday’s conference was the nationally-known Rebecca Kiessling, the face of the movement to oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Kiessling has appeared on CNN, Fox News, CBN, and EWTN to explain how she was conceived through rape and saved from abortion only because the laws at the time prevented it.
“No exceptions and no compromises is the most effective pro-life strategy,” Kiessling argued. She pointed to the complete turnaround in the State of Georgia when state right to life activists made a decision not to endorse any political candidate who favored rape or incest exceptions to anti-abortion laws. Becker, who is currently president of Georgia Right to Life, confirmed that the state legislature changed from being “last in the nation in pro-life law” to enacting several life-affirming laws that do not include any exceptions for rape or incest.
The concept of personhood is naturally allied with the no compromise, no exception position, since a baby conceived through rape or incest is logically as much a person as a baby conceived any other way. Kiessling thus strongly supports pressing the issue of personhood. “Personhood has caused the media to exponentially increase stories about abortion,” and therefore there is a “huge residual value of having the issue on the ballot,” said Kiessling.
The president of Personhood Education New York stressed that the group’s main focus is education, not politics, however. The group intends to create a separate non-profit organization with a more specific political purpose some time in the future. For now, the introduction of a personhood amendment to the New York state constitution is “not even in our sights,” she said.
The organization’s president, Dawn Eskew, explained that “education alters political activity. … So the main goal is to educate the community.” She concluded, “you can’t have any changes with bills or laws unless you change the people.”
Karee Santosis the co-author, together with her husband, Manuel P. Santos, M.D., of a Catholic marriage advice book forthcoming from Ave Maria Press in 2016. She and her husband began teaching marriage preparation and enrichment classes in New York City in 2003. Karee has written numerous articles on marriage and family for the National Catholic Register, Faith & Family magazine, and various Catholic websites. She also founded the online Catholic marriage support community Can We Cana?.