Be Pissed about Personhood

Conception. It’s not a concept many queer women have to face in their daily sexual exploits. But as women, and as allies to women, it should be something that evokes a serious emotional response. From the day Roe v. Wade was determined, conservative groups have been working overtime to restrict our access to our own bodies and limit our choices. It fell out of the mainstream reporting for a while, but that doesn’t mean the issue disappeared. Proposed “personhood” bills, where human life is defined as beginning at the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, have been put forth (and struck down) by a number of states in recent history (can we all say…Mississippi?). But our rights haven’t always been protected. Missouri has had a “personhood” law on the books for decades, and now Oklahoma has passed their proposed bill. Let me explain why this matters, not just for straight women or to feminists, but to all women and all of their allies.

Putting aside the politically charged language and feelings such a bill elicits, I am going to focus on the science and equality of such a bill. Unlike the Missouri law, the Oklahoma law makes no reference to unborn children being “subject to the Constitution of the United States, and decisional interpretations thereof by the United States Supreme Court”, i.e. Roe V. Wade does not hold power over it. As such, abortions are akin to murder. Not properly taking prenatal care is a criminal offense (unless, of course, you are doing so for religious reasons). Both bills make no exceptions for incest, rape, or health of the mother. What they DO accomplish is listing “life” and all rights associated with it at the MOMENT of fertilization. Take a second. How could this affect queer women and why should we care? Removing yourself from the greater women’s rights health issues, and removing yourself from politics, think about it for a minute. I bet it affects your personal life much more than you would initially think.

In response to this bill, Senator Constance Johnson (D Oklahoma City) proposed an amendment to the bill which stipulated that life, in fact, begins at ejaculation. Her argument was essentially ‘why stop at the zygote? If that embryo counts as life, than so must we protect the vital ingredients that combine to create it.’ It was an outlandish proposal, but extremely savvy from a feminist slant. Such an amendment would prohibit males from depositing sperm in any receptacle other than a woman’s vagina. Goodbye socks, adios oral sex, au revoir anal sex, and arrivederci…donor tubes. While the amendment has since been removed, it has done its job. The male senators and representatives of the great state of Oklahoma were up in arms. Government has no place to regulate a man’s body! It infringes on personal freedoms! How dare someone think they know what is best for us! We…we…we….oh, shit. We sound like prochoice advocates. The irony sunk in, but too little too late. Their arguments resonated across the sound waves of television, radio, and within their chambers. While I personally respect the amendment and what it was attempting to do, I am struck by the nagging issue: “What if it passed? What else does this effect?” The ramifications of such an amendment are almost always not looked at from a queer health perspective. It might serve its purpose curtailing straight men’s ability to run around “wasting” their seed, taste a little of what gender inequality is, and they would certainly feel the noose tightening around their necks (or, rather, testicles). But it would also usher us back into the days where sodomy laws forced queer men into the shadows (or jails) and queer women would be less able to find healthy, anonymous donors to be able to start their families.

Not that in vitro fertilization is going to be a viable option in Oklahoma for long anyway. How many of you have relied on, or are planning to rely on, or have considered at all, IVF? Not so easy for two vaginas to procreate on their own. I’ve tried. You’ve tried. It’s a no go. But if life begins at the moment an egg and sperm combine, then life begins in the petri dish. Before it’s implanted. Which causes some very real issues, both legally and ethically, for IVF. Two working moms? Two dads? Hysterectomies, endometriosis, just plain old do not want to carry a baby? Surrogacy is caught in this red tape as well. The legal rights as parents for queer couples is already precarious in many states, and bills like these only further complicate what should be a beautiful thing. This bill has the potential to effectively eradicate queer parenting and positive queer role models entirely.

This is not about the straight/gay divide. It’s not about being pro or anti abortion. It isn’t even about politics. It’s about science and equality, pure and simple. A fertilized egg is not viable in a lab, nor is it viable on its own once implanted in a woman’s uterus for months. According to the bible, life begins at first breath. Having the government control what women can or can’t do with their bodies is just as ludicrous as having them control what men do. The bill, at least, does not make claims that it is scientifically or factually based. As a scientist and fervent supporter of the separation of church and state, this is a giant, red, glaring issue for me.

Medical decisions should be based on….wait for it…medical information. I really don’t understand how in 2012 this isn’t causing more of an uproar. I am not trying to argue the case for or against abortion/adoption/implantation/surrogacy or any other reproductive procedure. I have absolutely no opinion on whether or not someone else should be able to have IVF, or donate sperm, or carry out an unplanned pregnancy. I care very much about what goes into my uterus, and into my partner’s (in a completely respectful, ‘I support you’ kind of way), and that’s where the buck stops. Science is science, and should never be twisted for political gain. It shouldn’t be entirely ignored when it doesn’t support a personal agenda, either. Unfortunately, as well all know, this is hardly ever the case in this country. We can’t even teach about dinosaurs in all public schools without receiving backlash. It’s more than sad, it’s downright scary; and it’s motivating.

We should react to ignorance when it comes to an outsider determining what someone else can or can’t do to their own bodies, whether it affects our personal lives or not. We must begin to widen the scope of our activism. Science has always been on the front lines, and if I am going to choose a team to stand with, this is it. The science is simple; my point is simple. Stay out of our bedrooms, and leave our petri dishes in peace.

**after this article was published, new information came in regarding Arizona’s brand new “Women’s Health and Safety Act” which now decrees that conception legally occurs two weeks BEFORE pregnancy. Essentially, all women, at all times, are perpetually pregnant. Just in case. You never know what’s going to happen to you two weeks from now, so it’s best to be safe. It also mandates an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion can be undertaken, including for victims of rape. The goal of the bill is to limit the amount of time women have access to the option of abortion, but the ramifications reach far and wide. Are you pissed? Like, REALLY pissed? You should be. So am I.

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About Leah Schein

Leah is a born and bred Chicagoan, and considers herself extremely fortunate to be raised by amazing liberal parents in Logan Square. Coming from a long family history of equality activism, the crazy world of politics feels like home to her. Her upbringing allowed her to fully appreciate her love of tacos, and provided the support needed to be independent and insane. She is a happy survivor of the public school system, all the way through her undergrad years, culminating with a BA in anthropology. Her love of travel and all things adventurous led to the pursuit of a Master of Science from sunny ol’ England, where she happily grasped a conservation degree and ran off to live in a number of rain forests to research nocturnal primates. Through the amazing diversity she was fortunate to be raised amongst, she has an unwavering appreciation of all cultures and peoples, and has used this to form the foundation of her outspoken support of civil rights. You may have seen her running around Boystown/Tuna town over the last decade, or at events she volunteers at for the Human Rights Campaign. It’s possible you spied her at the Silent Film Festival. That strange woman getting into a wrestling match in the leaves on Foster Ave beach at 3am…that definitely wasn’t her. She couldn’t be more excited about sharing her love of science, and it’s role in our daily lives, with the community she loves. Nerds are cool, people. They drink martini’s too.


2 Responses to “Be Pissed about Personhood”

  1. Thanks for writing this thought-provoking article. I couldn’t help but get flashes of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” as I read your description about the argument on when life begins. Chilling.

    Posted by Val | April 17, 2012, 10:40 am
  2. Yeah, ironic the bible beaters quote the bible to support hating gays but don’t take its advice when it comes to when life begins…or mixing fabrics…or eating hoofed animals…or owning women as possessions…

    Posted by Meg | April 17, 2012, 12:40 pm

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