Ideas Have Consequences
One of the things I hear most from moderate pro-lifers and political pragmatists is that personhood is just too complicated and abstract to apply effectively in law. They say it’s either too philosophical, it’s too far-reaching, or it will lead to further entrenching abortion in law. These arguments are not only ill-informed, they’re purposefully inaccurate.
The trouble is, when well-meaning pro-lifers (especially well-meaning but sheepish freshman pro-life legislators) hear these arguments from seemingly-reputable pro-life figures, they assume they’re true. My task, then, becomes to not only promote personhood but undo mistruths and scare tactics that float around pro-life communities. A frustrating task, but not an impossible one thanks to Georgia Right to Life’s education program, Pillars of Personhood.
I’m always on the hunt for new, relevant, simple examples of what personhood is and isn’t so that people can finally “get it.” I think I’ve finally found one that clearly illustrates what I’ve been trying to explain to people for years now.
Back in 2008 up in New York, Jennifer Jorgensen was in the third trimester of her pregnancy. While driving down the road, she swerved into oncoming traffic and hit another car head on. The driver and passenger of the other car were killed, Jennifer was seriously injured, and her baby was injured and then born prematurely. Six days after being born, her baby would succumb to her injuries and die in the hospital. After four years of legal battles, Jorgensen was convicted of killing her baby and sentenced to nine years in prison. After another three years of appeals, the New York Court of Appeals overturned her conviction citing the fact that under state law, Jennifer’s baby was not a person when the incident which caused death occurred. Current NY State Law says a human is not a person until it has been born and is alive.
Many pro-lifers are jumping on this case to argue that the court failed to recognize the humanity of the baby, but they’re argument is wrong. The court clearly recognized the humanity of the baby. They even recognized the baby’s legal personhood under law. It just ruled that the human baby didn’t meet the requirements for personhood at the time the death-causing injuries occurred.
The real injustice isn’t that the NY Appeals Court ruled that the baby was not a person; it’s that the NY Appeals Court CORRECTLY ruled that the baby is not a person. Since her baby’s injuries were sustained prior to the legal requirement for personhood under state law, Jennifer didn’t committed murder.
The issue in this case is not humanity or how emotionally shocking the situation is, it's personhood. By this standard, preterm babies who have been born and haven't had the cord cut yet aren't persons.
We spend so much time bickering over whether or not to include exceptions for babies conceived in rape and which abortion procedures to ban and which ones to allow that we’ve completely missed the real point of this issue. It’s not about a procedure, taxpayer funding, or facility regulations, it’s about human persons who are valuable from the very moment they come into existence. If NY regulated the abortion industry out of business, the Court still would have ruled this way. Even if we banned all abortions through all nine months at the federal level, we would do nothing to protect this same baby from being killed via biomedical research or genetic screening by In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). If we protected all life from fertilization until birth, it would do nothing to protect the elderly, infirmed, and disabled from being eliminated.
The Personhood Amendment would define in the State (or U.S.) Constitution that human personhood begins at the moment of fertilization and that the government cannot infringe on that God-given right that is protected under the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This is the only consistent and comprehensive defense against this legal madness and the most effective tool against a prevailing worldview that believes life is only valuable when it’s pretty and convenient (even when that worldview exists in the "pro-life" movement).
The idea that we can solve the assault against the sanctity of human life without going to the source is a bad one. And, as we see with this NY Appeals Court ruling, ideas have consequences.
By Joshua Edmonds
GRTL Director of Education & Legislation,
Instructor for the GRTL Pillars of Personhood Training Seminar
Published clinical/social psychology researcher