On the ballot: Ban contraception?

The fetal "personhood" people want your pill, too

Published September 23, 2009 2:23PM (EDT)

Remember the "personhood" people? Undeterred by their recent (and rather epic) failure in Colorado to guarantee constitutional protections to "any human being from the moment of conception," they are "regrouping with a broader initiative," RHRealityCheck reported over the summer. Back in March, we discussed the ways in which the legal mumbo-jumbo in these "personhood" initiatives represents a threat not only to Roe, but also to pregnant women -- even those planning to carry to term. And as Amanda Marcotte warned on Tuesday, you should know this as well: They are also coming for your pill.

That, actually, was one reason the first Colorado campaign was a near non-starter. Opponents of Amendment 48 said -- convincingly -- that "giving equal status to a fertilized egg ... could restrict contraception, in vitro fertilization, termination of life-threatening ectopic pregnancies and other health care for women." But the proposed 2010 ballot language for the next go-round there vagues it up even more, reading: "the term 'person' shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being." (Organizers were advised to expand the definition by one Dianne Irving, Ph.D., whose use of quotation marks around the term "emergency contraceptives" demands that I call her a "bioethicist.") In Florida, the next emerging battleground, a proposed constitutional amendment would specifically ban not only abortion but also emergency contraception and the pill, which would not bode well for spring break.

Yes, opposing abortion and contraception is like opposing rain and umbrellas, but you know the drill: The contention -- which is made of wrong -- is that certain contraception is abortion. More broadly, as Marcotte puts it, "The organized anti-choice movement is hostile to contraception, and especially hostile to female-controlled contraception. This gives lie to their claims that they're indifferent to women's liberation and sexual behavior, and only interested in saving fetal life."

That's why Marcotte argues, with a bit of satisfaction, that these guys are "overplaying their hand." Word is that many other antiabortion activists oppose, or at least sidle away from, such measures. After all, Marcotte notes, 98 percent of women will use contraception at some point in their lives, "which means that even the people railing against the evils of contraception are probably sneaking around and using it, while lying to their anti-choice buddies about it. All pro-choicers need to do is make it clear to the voters that this is an assault on contraception, and assume that the secret ballot will do the rest."

Yes, but there's a "yes, but" in here. Look, contraception-as-abortifacient is a preposterous conversation to begin with -- but here we are. And there's plenty of other lying and dissembling going on about abortion as we speak. You could say that the looniest hard-liners make their alienated would-be allies look bad -- but you could also say they make them look good. The farther these folks and their fatuous arguments and amendments push the conversation toward crazytown, the more reasonable everyone else -- say, the people with our healthcare in their hands  -- looks by comparison. Which may be in part how we got here in the first place.

Extra credit: Read about the women fighting "personhood" laws in Mexico.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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