Beyond Abortion: Why the Personhood Movement Implicates Reproductive Choice

44 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2012 Last revised: 3 Dec 2013

See all articles by Jonathan F. Will

Jonathan F. Will

Mississippi College - School of Law

Date Written: February 20, 2013


In 2008, an amendment was proposed to the Colorado Constitution that sought to attach the rights and protections associated with legal “personhood” to any human being from the moment of fertilization. Although the initiative was defeated, it sparked a nation-wide Personhood Movement that has spurred similar efforts at the federal level and in over a dozen states. Personhood advocates choose terms like “fertilization,” or phrases such as “human being at any stage of development,” to identify the person-defining moment in the reproductive process and these designations have profound implications for reproductive choice. Proponents are outspoken in their desire to outlaw abortion, but they are less transparent about their intent with respect to other aspects of reproductive choice, such as contraception and infertility treatments.

This paper describes the background of the Personhood Movement and its attempt to achieve legal protection of the preborn from the earliest moments of biological development. Following the late 2011 failure of the personhood measure in Mississippi, the language used within the Movement was dramatically changed in an attempt to address some of the concerns raised regarding implications for reproductive choice. Putting abortion to one side, this paper identifies why the personhood framework that is contemplated by the proposed changes does not eliminate the potential for restrictions on contraception and in vitro fertilization (IVF) that put the lives of these newly-recognized persons at risk; nor should it if proponents intend to remain consistent with the position. The paper goes on to suggest what those restrictions might look like based on recent efforts being proposed at the state level and frameworks that have already been adopted in other countries.

Keywords: Law, Bioethics, Personhood, Contraception, IVF, Abortion, Reproductive Technology, In Vitro Fertilization, Conception, Fertilization, Life, Preimplantation Genetic Screening, Cryopreservation, Sanctity of Human Life Act

Suggested Citation

Will, Jonathan F., Beyond Abortion: Why the Personhood Movement Implicates Reproductive Choice (February 20, 2013). American Journal of Law and Medicine, Forthcoming, Mississippi College School of Law Research Paper No. 2012-05, Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan F. Will (Contact Author)

Mississippi College - School of Law ( email )

151 East Griffith Street
Jackson, MS 39201
United States
601.925.7195 (Phone)


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