What is personhood?
By Gualberto Garcia Jones, Esq.,—What is legal personhood? It is the cornerstone of our fundamental human rights, but what does it look like, and why is its impact so catastrophic for the culture of death?
To acknowledge the personhood of a human being is to recognize that human being as a brother or sister, a son or daughter, and a bearer of God-given inalienable rights and the equal protection of the law. Personhood is the right to have rights. On the other hand, to deny a human being’s personhood is to cast them out of the human family, to create a second class of human beings, and to deny them the standing before and equal protection of the law.
What does personhood look like in practice?
Here are a few examples:
- A doctor who recognizes personhood and treats a pregnant mother understands that he or she has two patients who are equally deserving of care and attention.
- An attorney or judge who upholds personhood interprets the law so that the child in the womb enjoys all the same basic protections afforded to other human beings.
- An activist who stands upon personhood shows the world the hidden injustices being perpetrated against pre-born children and demands those injustices are rectified by principled, non-discriminatory laws.
- A pro-life organization that promotes personhood never accepts the dehumanization of any human being based on race, sex, economic status, stage of development, level of dependency, physical and mental ability, medical prognosis, manner of conception, contribution to society, wantedness, or any other factor.
Abortion advocates know that if we clearly define the pre-born child as a person, the child will have the same legal right to life as any other human being. They know that, to continue to legally kill pre-born children, they have to hold the line on personhood. Because personhood not only scientifically and philosophically destroys all their arguments, it targets, pulls up, and exposes the very root of the culture of death.
Roe v. Wade and the “Blackmun Hole”
Personhood holds the key to filling the “Blackmun Hole,” a startling admission in Roe’s majority opinion that exposed the antithesis of the pro-abortion position:
“If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the 14th Amendment.”
– Justice Harry Blackmun, Roe v. Wade
The question of when life begins
In 1973, the science of embryology was not yet able to definitively prove that a living, fully human individual with unique DNA exists at the moment of fertilization and continues to grow through various states of development along a continuum, until death. However, shortly after the Roe decision was handed down, and ever since, embryologists have been proving what is now a common scientific understanding—that human life begins at fertilization. Pick up any embryology textbook today, and you’ll find that your life, and every person’s life, is scientifically defined as beginning at that moment.
“[The zygote], formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being.”
– Keith L. Moore, in The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed. (2003). p. 16.
If the Supreme Court acknowledged the humanity of the pre-born child, according to modern science, it could end this age-based discrimination and restore the legal protections of personhood to the pre-born.
The denial of personhood
The horrific reality is that, in America, there is a group of living human beings who have no consistent protection under law and therefore, are being killed in the thousands every single day. While this is truly astounding, it’s not unprecedented.
“In the eyes of the law…the slave is not a person.”
– Virginia Supreme Court, 1858
Throughout history, certain people groups have felt the brunt of a system that denied their humanity, stripped their personhood, and subjected them to horrors beyond the imagination. While the legal framework that made such horrors possible has now been removed, it remains firmly in place for pre-born Americans.
There remains one, and only one, group of human beings in the United States today for which being human is not enough to be protected by law. It is no surprise that in the Supreme Court’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision in 2016, the majority of the Court did not refer to the child in the womb one single time in its entire 40-page opinion. For abortion advocates, the pre-born child has no say and no standing, and for all intents and purposes…they do not exist.
So what is a person?
A person is a human being from its earliest biological beginning—at every stage of development and in every circumstance—who naturally possesses the inalienable right to life and deserves to be protected equally under law.
Personhood, then, stands on a solid foundation that proclaims there can never be a path to abolishing abortion or any other assault on human life and human dignity that includes the killing of innocent human beings. The Personhood Alliance works to strengthen this foundation, educate the pro-life movement on adhering to a consistent morality in both policy and strategy, and call the Church to raise up the biblical standard in today’s corrupted landscape.
Gualberto Garcia Jones, Esq., is the president of the Personhood Alliance and a licensed attorney in the commonwealth of Virginia. He is a human rights advisor to the Holy See Mission to the Organization of American States and works in Washington DC to stop the expansion of abortion in Latin America.