Personhood Seeking New Life with Republican Control

20 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2017 Last revised: 19 May 2017

See all articles by Jonathan F. Will

Jonathan F. Will

Mississippi College - School of Law

I. Glenn Cohen

Harvard Law School

Eli Y Adashi

Brown University Medical School

Date Written: March 3, 2017


Just three days prior to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, Rep. Jody B. Hice (R-GA) introduced the Sanctity of Human Life Act (H.R. 586), which, if enacted, would provide that the rights associated with legal personhood begin at fertilization. While often touted as a means to outlaw abortion, protecting the “lives” of single-celled zygotes may also have implications for the practice of reproductive medicine and research. Indeed, such personhood efforts stand apart and distinct from more incremental attempts to restrict abortion that target the abortion procedure and those who would perform it. While personhood efforts have not been successful to date at either the state or federal levels, abortion opponents may find a friend in President Trump and his Supreme Court nominees. What is more, because the recent decision by the Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt makes it more difficult for states to impose incremental restrictions on the abortion procedure, restrictions focused on the status of the unborn may assume increasing importance. Personhood rhetoric is often seen in proceedings involving the disposition of unused embryos and in laws that restrict access to abortion on the basis of gender, race, or disability. Laws outlawing abortion on the basis of fetal pain are also on the rise. With so much uncertainty surrounding the political landscape, this essay places the personhood movement in historical context with other anti-abortion strategies. This essay further explores the theoretical underpinnings of the personhood movement and considers its future prospects with regard to abortion and other reproductive services.

Keywords: Reproductive Rights, Abortion, Bioethics, Personhood, Law

JEL Classification: K32, K36

Suggested Citation

Will, Jonathan F. and Cohen, I. Glenn and Adashi, Eli Y, Personhood Seeking New Life with Republican Control (March 3, 2017). Indiana Law Journal, Forthcoming; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 17-12; Mississippi College School of Law Research Paper No. 2017-04. 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)


I. Glenn Cohen

Harvard Law School ( email )

1525 Massachusetts Avenue
Griswold Hall 503
Cambridge, 02138
United States

Eli Y Adashi

Brown University Medical School ( email )

Providence, RI 02912
United States

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