Personhood: Law, Common Sense, and Humane Opportunities

9 Pages Posted: 20 May 2020

See all articles by Helen M. Alvare

Helen M. Alvare

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: May 13, 2020


This article is in response to If a Fetus Is a Person, It Should Get Child Support, Due Process, and Citizenship, by Carliss N. Chatman.

It is pointless to approach Professor Chatman’s argument on its own terms (to wit, “tak[ing] our laws seriously,” or equal application across myriad legal categories of “full personhood” rights) because these terms are neither seriously intended nor legally comprehensible. Instead, her essay is intended to create the impression that legally protecting unborn human lives against abortion opens up a Pandora’s box of legal complications so “ridiculous” and “far-fetched” that we should rather just leave things where they are under the federal Constitution post-Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This impression, in turn, is a tool to forward Professor Chatman’s personal preference for legal abortion — which she gives away by calling legal abortion by its political name: “the right to choose.”

But her arguments, sounding in law, about the alleged chaos to flow from a law protecting unborn human lives from abortion are false on the grounds of basic legal principles concerning federal constitutional and immigration law, as well as the legal principles underlying state legislation and statutory interpretation. I will set these legal principles out below before turning to the more interesting and legally plausible matter of whether or not lawmakers should choose to take into account both the needs of pregnant women and the humanity of unborn life when crafting laws affecting both, whether the situation involves immigration, incarceration, or women’s need for financial support.

Keywords: abortion, Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Fourteenth Amendment

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K30

Suggested Citation

Alvare, Helen M., Personhood: Law, Common Sense, and Humane Opportunities (May 13, 2020). Washington and Lee Law Review, Vol. 76, No. 2, 2020, George Mason Legal Studies Research Paper No. LS 20-11, Available at SSRN: or

Helen M. Alvare (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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