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McEntee: 'Personhood' imperils women's hard-won rights
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some people think life begins when sperm and ovum unite. For others, it's when the fetal brain develops enough for the beginning of cognition, or when a newborn takes her first breath.

Such disparities are why it makes absolutely no sense to take what could be the first steps toward a "personhood" amendment to the Utah Constitution that would establish as state policy that life begins at fertilization.

Freshman Sen. Aaron Osmond has opened a bill file called "Joint Resolution on Human Life," apparently at the behest of the Utah Eagle Forum's Family Action Coalition. In turn, the Eagle Forum is aligned with personhood advocates in a few states who have tried, and so far failed, to add such a law to their books.

The concept is "enforcement of the God-given right to life of all pre-born children from the beginning of their biological development," writes Cal Zastrow, a founder of Colorado's Personhood USA.

That's the problem. Does any political body have the right to "enforce" a particular way of thinking or believing? No. The concepts of freedom of speech and religion, and therefore thought, are fundamental in the United States.

That's why we have wildly divergent political, religious and ethical constructs that promote public and private debates. Your concept of justice may conflict with mine, but we both have a right to our reasoning.

Personhood also is a matter of women's rights; we're the ones who bear the children, and we've fought hard for legal contraception, abortion and to manage our bodies as we see fit.

Why should a woman have to forfeit her personhood to a zygote?

Science and medicine also allow women who cannot conceive to receive in-vitro fertilization — yet another choice that could be imperiled by a "personhood" amendment.

In that case, sperm and egg are united outside the woman's body, and if they unite, can be implanted into her uterus after a day or two.

A couple may choose to have several implanted to make sure some take, but then may want to remove excess zygotes so she doesn't have quintuplets. Would that be a violation of a zygote's personhood?

Then there's an ectopic pregnancy, in which a zygote begins to grow in, say, a woman's fallopian tube and must be removed to spare her health or life. The zygote can't survive, but under the theory, it would be a person, too.

These issues and many others, I'm sure, have persuaded voters in several states to reject the personhood movement. Osmond has been careful to say he hasn't decided whether to go for a simple resolution or a constitutional amendment.

He'd be wise to sit down and talk with many women of all religious, philosophical and political views about the ramifications of political action on personhood and women's rights. I'm sure he'd get an earful.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.

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