Conscience Legislation, the Personhood Movement, and Access to Emergency Contraception

Faulkner Law Review, Vol. 4, p. 411, 2013

Mississippi College School of Law Research Paper

21 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2013

See all articles by Jonathan F. Will

Jonathan F. Will

Mississippi College - School of Law

Date Written: June 11, 2013


In the medical setting, conscience legislation serves to protect health care professionals who refuse to provide certain procedures or services that would violate their consciences. The “Personhood Movement,” on the other hand, is characterized by advocates’ attempts to adopt legislation or constitutional amendments at the state and/or federal level that would extend the legal and moral protection associated with personhood to members of the human species at the earliest stages of biological development. The relationship between conscience legislation and the Personhood Movement may not be self-evident, but the connection becomes apparent when considering trends in conscience legislation. This is particularly true in the context of expanding legal protection to health care professionals who object to certain forms of birth control, such as emergency contraception (EC).

In a recent paper Professor Elizabeth Sepper noted that instead of protecting a health care provider’s conscience, a possible purpose behind broad conscience legislation is to “make abortions, family planning, and end-of-life care more difficult to obtain,” and that the true goal of such legislation is “hostility to reproductive health and patients’ interests.” Indeed, this essay will suggest that the adoption of a personhood framework could represent majoritarian approval of the very principles that cause certain people to conscientiously object to EC. While some have raised concerns that conscience legislation itself could lead to problems with access to EC (especially in rural communities), adoption of a personhood framework seems to pose a much greater risk. This essay describes the expansion of conscience legislation in the medical setting, which reflects a trend toward authorizing the refusal of a broader range of procedures and services by a broader range of health care professionals. It then draws a connection between Mississippi’s very expansive conscience legislation and the decision by a national organization, Personhood USA, to propose a personhood amendment to the Mississippi Constitution. A brief discussion of the relevant biology reveals the relationship between concepts of personhood and EC. This essay suggests that even if a personhood framework is not officially adopted, legislatures that favor the movement and the broad protection of conscience-based refusals may be less inclined to enact measures that protect a woman’s ability to obtain EC. This should be viewed as problematic given that many people, including physicians and pharmacists, may not have an accurate understanding of the reproductive biology associated with early human development and the operation of EC, which may lead such professionals to make conscientious objections based on clinically false information.

Keywords: Abortion, contraception, emergency contraception, personhood, constitution, conscience, conscientious objection

Suggested Citation

Will, Jonathan F., Conscience Legislation, the Personhood Movement, and Access to Emergency Contraception (June 11, 2013). Faulkner Law Review, Vol. 4, p. 411, 2013; Mississippi College School of Law Research Paper. Available at SSRN:

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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