Frequently Asked Questions
What is personhood and why does it matter?
What is personhood and why does it matter?
The word “person” refers to a human being regarded as an individual. Personhood is the quality or status of being a person.
From these definitions, you might think that a human being in the womb is already a person from the time of fertilization. After all, a human being’s unique genetic code is established at the moment of fertilization. Therefore, personhood, the quality of being an individual human being should be simultaneous with conception, the biological beginning of an individual human life.
Tragic examples of human beings being considered sub-human or non-human appear throughout history, however. When a human being, or group of human beings, loses the legal status and protection normally afforded to persons, oppression and barbarity follow.
Human slavery is an ongoing example, where human beings are treated as property rather than having equal protection as persons. In the twentieth century, Nazi propaganda removed protection from Jewish people by portraying them as sub-human.
Both examples pale in comparison (at least numerically) to the worldwide practice of abortion — the killing of human beings in the womb. In America, over 60 million human beings have been killed in the womb since 1973 because they are not afforded protection as persons by any branch of our government.
The personhood movement seeks to establish legal personhood and protection for all human beings, beginning at fertilization.
What is a new, unique human life and when does it begin? The scientific answer centers on an understanding of individuality and distinctness, which is encoded in our DNA (genes).
We intuitively understand that a toddler or an adolescent is not an extension of his or her parents; he or she is an individual human being. Understanding this at a cellular level may not be as intuitive, and it is here that modern science helps us. Our understanding of human uniqueness was taken to a new level with the discovery of DNA, the genetic blueprint that makes each human being who they are and contains the instructions for the continuing development of each person throughout their lifespan. DNA fingerprinting can be used to identify specific persons, as seen on crime shows, precisely because it “creates a unique genetic ‘barcode’ that distinguishes each of us from all other humans.”1
In other words, on a cellular level, each human being is an individual and distinct from all others because each person’s DNA is different. Even identical twins have slight variation between their DNA with the addition of methyl groups which can affect gene expression. When a sperm and an egg, each containing DNA from the respective parent, combine, it is the joining of their DNA that constitutes fertilization and the creation of a new human being with its own unique genetic makeup.1
“Each of us begins life as a single fertilized egg cell that undergoes millions of rounds of cell division to produce all the cells that comprise the tissues and organs of our bodies.”2
DNA, also called genes or the genome, is like computer code or a blueprint that tells your body how to build and maintain itself. “It provides the basic instructions for building…and directs your growth and development .”1 Almost every cell in your body contains the entire code (the entire set of DNA), though each cell only uses the part of the code that it needs. Thus, a specific person can be identified by almost any of their cells; each part of you declares your unique genetic identity.
The physical structure of DNA is akin to incredibly long strings wrapped very tightly into neatly organized packages —packages called chromosomes.2 Human DNA is organized into 46 chromosomes, which are arranged into 23 pairs. When sperm and egg cells are formed by the male and female sex organs, their DNA undergoes a special division process whereby those pairs are halved. This leaves each sperm or egg cell with only 23 chromosomes, e.g., half of the DNA that is present in the other cells of the person’s body.1 In other words, a man’s sperm is a specialized cell containing half of his unique genetic code. “When sperm and egg fuse, they form a fertilized egg that re-establishes the typical chromosomal number  of human cells.”1 This fertilized egg is called a “zygote, the first cell of the new individual.”1
Now there is a new life, because the zygote has its own unique genetic code; half of its DNA came from the sperm, and half from the egg. It is programmed to develop through every stage of life. “Continued division of this single cell and its progeny leads to the production of a full-term infant and eventually an adult.”2 We have different names for the stages of its life; when it is very small, it passes through stages named embryo, fetus and infant.1 When it is bigger, it passes through stages named toddler, adolescent and adult.
“We are made up of trillions of individual cells, all of them the descendants of that first product of fertilization…all of our traits are influenced by the information contained in that tiny cell.”2
1. Hoehn K, Marieb EN. Human Anatomy and Physiology. 7th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; 2007. p 55, 58, 1073, 1114, 1116.
2. Belk C, Maier VB. Biology: Science for Life with Physiology. 4th ed., Custom Edition ISBN 978-1-269-74056-2. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc; 2013. p 117, 118, 149.
While we understand and sympathize with the hardships a mother faces in these situations, we are against abortion for the same reason we are against rape — it is a violation of the rights of another person; in this case, the preborn child.
We do not believe that a rapist violating a woman’s rights is grounds for the woman to violate the rights of her child. To read more of our thoughts on difficult situations, please read this article.
The following amendment was added to the 2018 personhood bill (S217), and we commend it as an answer to this question:
“Nothing in this article shall be construed to prohibit a licensed physician from performing a medical procedure or providing medical treatment designed or intended to prevent the death of a pregnant woman. However, the physician shall make reasonable medical efforts under the circumstances to preserve both the life of the mother and the life of the preborn human being in a manner consistent with accepted medical standards. Under such circumstances, the accidental or unintentional injury or death to the preborn human being is not a violation of this article. The threat of the death of a pregnant woman must not be based on a diagnosis or claim of a mental or emotional condition of the pregnant woman or a diagnosis or claim that the pregnant woman will purposefully engage in conduct that she intends to result in her death. The provisions of this section must not be construed to authorize the intentional killing of a preborn human being.”
Laws (and lack of laws) impose morality. This is an inescapable concept. We have a choice between a true, right, and good morality or a false, unfounded, and godless morality. It is not whether laws will or will not impose morality, but which morality will be imposed. Some laws lead to life; others lead to death. Which morality do you choose? Do you choose life or death?
Visit our Legislator Pledges page. This will show you who has signed a pledge of support and/or co-sponsored these bills. If your Senator or Representative has not done either, contact them, tell them that you are a constituent, and respectfully ask them to sign a pledge of support or co-sponsor the bill.
If you do not know who your legislators are, you can enter your address here to find their names and contact information.