North Dakota ‘Personhood’ Bill Targets Roe v. Wade

North Dakota’s war against women gets worse every day.

Earlier this month, the Republican-dominated state senate passed a “personhood” bill giving legal rights to human embryos, all but outlawing abortion in most cases. If Gov. Jack Dalrymple signs the bill, North Dakota would be the first state ever to successfully implement a “personhood” law, in spite of the numerous physicians who say these laws are dangerous to women:

“SB 2303 will restrict a doctor’s ability to treat doomed pregnancies, putting women’s lives at risk,” Siri Fiebiger, a physician from Fargo who practices obstetrics and gynecology, said in a statement released Tuesday. “Ectopic pregnancies are, and miscarriages can be, life-threatening if not treated in a timely fashion,” Fiebiger added. “Complications during pregnancy should be managed by physicians according to the patient’s needs and values, without involvement by politicians.”

Another bill making its way through the North Dakota legislature would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, on the disputed basis that at that point, a fetus can feel pain. State Republicans have also tried to regulate in-vitro fertilization and are reportedly pushing for legislation that could shut down the state’s only abortion clinic. Together, any combination of these laws could make abortion virtually inaccessible in North Dakota.

More shocking is how conservative North Dakota legislators freely admit that they’re trying to eliminate abortion rights once and for all, by attacking Roe v. Wade and eventually getting the Supreme Court involved:

“We are intending that it be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, since Scalia said that the Supreme Court is waiting for states to raise a case,” Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-N.D., the sponsor of the “personhood” initiative, told the Huffington Post.

The worst part is: Their efforts could succeed.

When the nonprofit Christian group Personhood USA brought their anti-choice campaign to Mississippi in 2011, it was already with a Roe v. Wade challenge in sight:

The idea for personhood was born during Roe v. Wade’s oral arguments, when Justice Potter Stewart said, “If it were established that an unborn fetus is a person, you would have an impossible case here.” Now, Personhood USA is trying to use the amendment to establish “personhood” as a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade ruling.

And while “personhood” activists lost in Mississippi, Salon’s Irin Carmon writes, it’s all part of a broader campaign by the Religious Right to outlaw abortion altogether. Campaigns that start at the state level make their way into the courts, Carmon writes, building a slow momentum for anti-abortion activists to eventually challenge Roe v. Wade itself:

A Nebraska ban on [partial-birth abortions] was overturned by the Court in 2000, but seven years later, the Court said an identical federal ban was OK, thanks to the presence of Alito.

“They directly reversed the rule from 2000,” says Priscilla Smith, a senior fellow at Yale Law School, who argued the 2007 case, Gonzalez v. Carhart. “One decision was, we’ll err on the side of the woman’s health. The other was, seven years later, we’ll err on the side of the state.” So much for judicial precedent. At the same time, Justice Anthony Kennedy alarmed pro-choice observers with an opinion rhapsodizing, irrelevantly, about how some women regret having abortions.

Somehow, anti-abortion activists in North Dakota and elsewhere — largely Christian, even if they don’t say so outright — have the audacity to say the “personhood” movement is a matter of “equal rights and protections.” (Never mind their drive to deny women’s rights to their own bodies!) From WND:

“Our understanding of pregnancy and human development since Roe v. Wade has changed dramatically,” says Jennifer Mason, a spokesperson for Personhood USA. “There is no question now that the unborn child is a human being and a person, who has a right to legal recognition and protection.”

It seems to me the only thing changing here is our respect for women’s rights to our own bodies — though it’s debatable whether the Christian right has ever really respected women to begin with.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at

  • Dana

    What is real reason these pro-lifers care so much about saving embryos and fetuses? Even the Bible says the unborn aren’t fully human, so their fervor for this can’t really be of a religious nature. What does that leave? Do they want to set women’s rights back into the stone age? Do they seek to create more impoverished people to be stuck working for minimum wage at their businesses? Are they trying to get more adoptee babies so their barren friends can brainwash the children into their religion? What is the deal here?

  • JohnnieCanuck

    When they make legal abortions impossible to get, the rich will go elsewhere. Those who can’t afford it will get illegal abortions and take their chances with death or permanent damage.

    Not very Christian of them to do this.

  • Susana

    i would love to ask them where will they get all the money to fund the adoption system (because LGBT “can’t” be good parents” and the boom will be huge) and the healthcare system (to help all the babies that will have to born with huge disabilities incompatible with a barely normal life).
    that’s why i feel thankful sometimes for being an european woman. good luck girls. hope these sickheads don’t get this through

  • MargueriteF

    I’d say that yes, they want to set women’s rights back to the stone age. A lot of them are also strongly against contraceptive use as well. They don’t want women to have any choice about getting pregnant. They’re not happy with the sexual revolution, and they want sex to invariably carry heavy, life-changing consequences in the naive hope that this will stop people from having sex outside of marriage, and probably in the hopes that it will discourage women from working outside the home, too.

  • Sunny Day

    First late period, call the police to report a possible homicide.

  • MargueriteF

    I’d say that yes, they want to set women’s rights back to the stone age. A lot of them are strongly opposed to contraception, too. They want serious, life-changing consequences for sex, in the naive hope that this will prevent sex before marriage, and probably in the hope that it will lead to fewer women working outside the home, too. They hate the sexual revolution and are fruitlessly striving to put the genie back into the bottle.

  • MargueriteF

    Why does Disqus hate me? Why??? I thought the first comment was lost, so did my best to reconstruct it. Oh, well *sighs*. Sorry for the repetition!

  • Edmond

    My thoughts were along these lines. Under such a law, it would seem that every miscarriage MUST be investigated.

  • Carmelita Spats

    Rep. Bobby Franklin of Georgia actually did propose that the local police should investigate every miscarriage as a potential homicide. We used to laugh at this type of insanity and treat it as satire..

  • Carmelita Spats

    I don’t believe this will go anywhere…Personhood would mean a ban on
    ALL FORMS OF CHEMICAL CONTRACEPTION in the interest of protecting “tiny
    people” and avoiding “child endangerment”…I’ve been reading about how
    more and more Evangelicals are siding with Catholic teaching concerning
    the pill and the IUD…Al Mohler, the former head of the Southern
    Baptist Convention, wrote a scathing article after the defeat of the
    “personhood” initiative in Mississippi. Mohler took the Catholic line:
    if you use the pill or the IUD, you are affecting the lining of the
    uterus so that a fertilized egg would not be able to implant itself and
    thus, you are starving the “baby”. He even charged Evangelicals who use chemical contraception as being pro-choice, “We are all Harry Blackmun now”.
    Besides, you have to make rape palatable and we saw what happened the
    last time they tried to convince women of the “blessings” of rape.

  • Sue Blue

    We need to put it in huge boldface type on billboards all over the country, and doctors need to inform women in no uncertain term for the nth frigging time that the PILL DOES NOT CAUSE ABORTIONS. It prevents ovulation in the first place, so fertilization never takes place. There’s no little zygote lost in an unwelcoming uterine wilderness to be flushed down a toilet, as the anti-choicers would have women believe. IUDs do prevent implantation by causing a local inflammatory reaction, but the pill does not affect the uterine lining except by affecting ovulation. It is ovulation and the resulting ovarian corpus luteum that maintains progesterone levels and the uterine lining until the embryo takes over. So…no ovulation, no fertilization, no corpus luteum, no pregnancy. Nothing. Zip. Nada. You can’t have an abortion if there’s nothing to abort. The ignorance (deliberate or not) of how contraception works is really one of my pet peeves.

  • observer

    Certainly blurs the line between hatred of women, and ignorance of their bodies.

  • Jeannieinpa

    Let’s say there was a careening car coming down the street toward two things and you could only rescue one of the things. Which would you rescue: the toddler or the gallon jar with 1,000 fertilized human cells? I think our instinct would be to rescue the obvious human, the toddler. Who has emotions, who is a part of someone’s family. Would these abortion foes be able to ignore the toddler to rescue the 1,000 zygotes, I mean, persons?

  • Crazy Russian

    What really kills me is that they self-righteously split hairs defining the moment a fetus starts feeling pain and granting all possible rights to zygotes, while laughing cynically in the faces of living, breathing people who can’t afford to visit a doctor. Fucking sociopaths.

  • Miss_Beara

    Exactly. These “personhood” people should be caring about the sick children whose parents cannot afford health insurance or they have health insurance but the companies are denying them coverage for life saving procedures. They should be caring about the adults who have to choose between medicine or preventative care and food, operations and rent. But no, these lawmakers are finding ways to fight universal health care, even towards the former zygotes who are now actual humans. Hypocrites and sociopaths indeed.

  • Claude

    Do they want to set women’s rights back into the stone age?

    To be fair, they only want to set women’s rights back to the bronze age.

    A friend offered that sheer resentment of modernity motivates pro-life fanaticism (like what MargueriteF said). I’ve argued in vain with conservative Catholics who think pro-choice advocates are genocidal maniacs, and their fervor does seem to be of a religious nature. Any artificial impediment to conception is in sinful defiance of God’s plan, and every fertilized egg is an innocent child with a soul. Sex must be oriented toward procreation and apparently also involves God in a transcendental menage a trois. Therefore homosexuality is “disordered.” They quote-mine the Bible despite what you rightly say about the Bible’s unsentimental view of the embryo/fetus. They claim to be as committed to the born as to the unborn, though the rhetoric is overwhelmingly devoted to abortion. There is just no negotiation possible here.

  • Helanna

    This is *exactly* my problem with people trying to claim that zygotes are humans. When it comes right down to it, everyone’s going to pick the *actual* human being. Few people mourn a miscarriage, even that of a wanted baby, the way they would mourn their actual child’s death. Few people really believe that abortion should be prosecuted the same way somebody who killed a 1-year-old would be.

    I can understand many of the reasons for being against abortion, even if I don’t agree with them. But this ‘personhood’ bullshit is just a stupid false equivalency that even most pro-life people don’t actually believe, and is just designed to prevent abortions through force rather than through logic or reasoning.

  • Baby_Raptor

    That’s what they WANT, Carmelita. They want women constantly knocked up and completely dependent on the men abusing them. They don’t actually believe that women are humans with the ability to live autonomous lives and do things like give consent.

    Edit: I spelled your name wrong in the initial post. My apologies.

  • trj

    It is a religious argument. It’s just that religious people tend to pick things from the Bible – including things that are not actually in it. Just because something is unsupported by scripture doesn’t mean they can’t still believe it.

  • Taneli Huuskonen

    I agree with the sentiment, but I feel uncomfortable with your last line. Compare:

    “Not very heterosexual of them to do this.”
    “Not very white of them to do this.”
    “Not very male of them to do this.”
    “Not very American of them to do this.”

  • Michael W Busch


    A very approximate analysis says that if this legislation is enacted, a woman will die an otherwise entirely avoidable death _every two months_. The rate of entirely avoidable permanent injury will be far higher than that.

    It is disturbing how many women some people are willing to see die for no sensible reason.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Not quite sure what to make of your thought, so, just thinking out loud here. I would guess a significant minority of the people pushing this legislation through are non-white or are female if that makes any difference.

    I didn’t invent that phrase, by the way. It refers to the higher standards that Christians claim to hold themselves to. In this case, that would be empathy and compassion for people who will suffer from effectively making abortion illegal in one or many States. I am calling the Christians among the bill’s supporters hypocrites for not living up to their own holier than thou claims.

    I see no comparison for that in your substitutions.

    Heterosexuals? Well, okay but so what?

    White? Hooboy. I’m old enough that I can recall when it was fairly common for Caucasian people of my parents’ generation to express gratitude to one another by casually saying, “That’s mighty White of you”. Haven’t heard it in years. Pure bigotry, if they had given any thought to it. Being privileged, for some, it wouldn’t even have occurred to them.

    Given the high levels of religiosity among non-white Americans, I would guess that they make up a significant percentage of anti-choicers, so I’m still not seeing the validity of the substitution here.

    American? Nearly everyone in the pro- and anti-choice camps involved with the legislation is American, no? American exceptionalism wouldn’t seem to apply here. Kibitzers like me don’t get any final say because we don’t vote.

  • Ubi Dubium

    The only problem with that is that, with the way people’s memories work, they won’t remember your message correctly. I remember awhile back seeing studies showing that, when exposed to repeated messages of “x does not cause y” or “person x did not do bad thing y” what stuck in people’s minds was the association between x and y. So later they were more likely to think x actually caused y that people who had not seen those messages.
    So it’s important to phrase your message in a positive way: “x causes good result z” instead, so if people make that mental connection, they’re remembering it the right way. So we probably shouldn’t put “pill” and “abortions” on the same billboard.

  • Rory

    I don’t agree. Being Christian implies a certain set of moral values, which arguably include caring for others. In that sense, trying to pass a law (or trying to overturn laws) resulting in harms to other people is not very Christian. On the other hand, sexual orientation, race, gender identity, or nationality don’t necessarily imply a particular set of moral values.

  • Machintelligence

    Sufficiently advanced ignorance is indistinguishable from malice.

  • J. Sanders

    Do they ever think of the commercial implications of ‘personhood?” Every time a woman had a period, she could sue anyone who sold her alcohol or tobacco, or who jostled her. On a more serious note, many prescription drugs would be unavailable to women, because there are many drugs that interfere with pregnancy in some way.

  • Sue Blue

    You’re right. How to emphasize that the Pill keeps the eggs in the ovaries so they never even meet sperm? Even that would probably be taken as interfering with God’s will that sperm and egg should meet. Some of these fine folk are definitely of the “every sperm (and egg) is sacred” mindset.

  • eric

    Personhood should be legally irrelevant. If person Alice needs parts of Bertha’s body to survive, we do not compel Bertha to give them up. We don’t do it for kidneys, lungs, or any other organ, we shouldn’t do it for uteri. We don’t do it for Alice when she’s 1, 5, or 50, so we shouldn’t do it for Alice when she’s 0.1.

  • J. Sanders

    Huh? No sequitur much?

  • Thomas Farrell

    So if it passes…

    1) File a lawsuit stating that it violates Roe v. Wade, and as evidence present all the legislators’ statements that their intent was to violate Roe v. Wade.

    2) Start running billboards and other ads throughout the state to inform women of the incredible medical danger of getting pregnant in that state. It should be an education campaign to teach them that they should move to another state where they can be safe, and that they shouldn’t have sex with anyone or try to have children as long as they live there.

    After women start moving out in droves and the remaining women refuse to have sex with their husbands, men will start getting interested in their civil rights.

  • Sue Blue

    Yes. And you know they would scream bloody murder if someone proposed legislation to make the state cover the huge NICU bills and other costs of all the handicapped, premature, and socially deprived infants their bill would force into the world…but it’s absolutely A-OK to legislate what happens in the womb, no matter what the cost.

    I really, really have a hard time not hating the forced-birthers.