Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

09 September 2010

The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Part 1


This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong's and my new policy paper: The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. Over the next few weeks, I'll post the full paper as a series of blog posts. This post contains the preliminaries and the introduction. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception

By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government
Published on August 31, 2010



The Coalition for Secular Government advocates government solely based on secular principles of individual rights. The protection of a person's basic rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness--including freedom of religion and conscience--requires a strict separation of church and state.

Consequently, we oppose any laws or policies based on religious scripture or dogma, such as restrictions on abortion and government discrimination against homosexuals. We oppose any government promotion of religion, such as "intelligent design" taught in government schools and tax-funded "faith-based initiatives." We also oppose any special exemptions or privileges granted by government to religious groups, such as exemptions for churches from the tax law applicable to other non-profits.

The Coalition for Secular Government seeks to educate the public about the necessary secular foundation of a free society, particularly the principles of individual rights and separation of church and state.

Ari Armstrong publishes Free Colorado and co-authors a column for Western Colorado's Grand Junction Free Press. He is the author of Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles, a book exploring the heroic fight for life-promoting values in the Potter novels.

Diana Hsieh founded the Coalition for Secular Government in 2008. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is currently working on a book on Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, based on her series of podcasts at ExploreAtlasShrugged.com. More of her work can be found at DianaHsieh.com.

An earlier version of this paper was published on August 19, 2008, under the title, "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person".

The authors would like to thank Paul Hsieh and Jeremy Sheetz for proofreading the paper, as well as Jennifer Armstrong for proofreading and design. The authors would also like to thank the 63 private donors who made this revised and expanded paper possible.


Amendment 62, set to appear on Colorado's 2010 ballot, seeks to legally establish personhood from the moment of conception, granting a fertilized egg (or zygote) full legal rights in the state's constitution. Following in the footsteps of 2008's Amendment 48, Amendment 62 is the spearhead of a national campaign to outlaw abortion and other practices that could harm a zygote, embryo, or fetus.

If fully implemented, Amendment 62 would profoundly and adversely impact the lives of sexually-active couples, couples seeking children, pregnant women and their partners, doctors, and medical researchers. It would subject them to severe legal restrictions, police controls, and in many cases protracted court battles and criminal punishments.

Amendment 62 would outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, terminally deformed fetuses, and danger to the woman's health. It would prohibit doctors from performing abortions except perhaps in some cases to save the life of the woman, thereby endangering the lives and health of many women. In conjunction with existing statutes, Amendment 62 would subject women and their doctors to first-degree murder charges for willfully terminating a pregnancy, with the required punishment of life in prison or the death penalty.

The impact of Amendment 62 would extend far beyond abortion into the personal corners of every couple's reproductive life. It would outlaw many forms of birth control, including the pill, IUD, and "morning after" drugs. It would require criminal investigation of any miscarriages deemed suspicious. It would ban potentially life-saving embryonic stem-cell research and common fertility treatments.

Amendment 62 rests on the absurd premise that a newly fertilized zygote is a full human person with an absolute right to biological life-support from a woman--regardless of her wishes and whatever the cost to her. The biological facts of pregnancy, in conjunction with an objective theory of rights, support a different view, namely that personhood and rights begin at birth. Colorado law should reflect those facts, not the Bible verses so often quoted (and creatively interpreted) by advocates of Amendment 62 and other "personhood" measures.

Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

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