Personhood: An Extreme Attack on Freedom

As a lawyer and a mom of twins conceived via in-vitro using a gestational surrogate, it is with deep personal interest I read about the “personhood” petitions being introduced in all 50 states.  On November 8, Mississippi will be the first state to vote on such an measure, Initiative 26.

Positioned as a “civil rights” issue, these extreme measures target abortion and women’s rights – reaching even further into the private life of women by insisting that all fertilized eggs be defined, and protected, as a person – even  before a pregnancy is validated by a physician.  The consequence of this type of legislation is that it may result in outlawing not only all abortions – but also some forms of contraception and assisted reproductive technologies such as in-vitro fertilization.

The ethics of reproduction is complex and nuanced – as is reproduction and sexuality itself.

When Jennifer and I started our journey to parenthood, we knew we had some intrinsic challenges in out parenting quest – but never in our wildest dreams did we imagine we would go through failed IVF, miscarriage, failed adoption, and finally have a gestational surrogate (name) to bring our babies into the world.

Imagine if such a law were in place in our state or on a federal level. Our dream of parenthood would never be fulfilled. This is not only an issue that involves us individually – it is an issue making headlines in the the presidential race.

Like most Americans, we want to see fewer abortions and believe in adoption. We also stand with a recent nationwide survey where 80% of likely voters that agreed with the statement that “government should not be getting involved in the decision to end a pregnancy, it’s better left to a woman, her family and her faith.”

Jennifer and I deeply believe in the sanctity of life.  We also believe that defining a fertilized zygote as a “person” does nothing to enhance that sanctity – it only serves to devalue the living breathing men and women faced with individual choices about their futures when a pregnancy is contemplated, a possibility, or established.  And with full legal rights, the loss or destruction of a fertilized egg could be classified as murder. This is a truly frightening prospect.

To learn  more about the important and timely issue, check out recent blog posts and articles by RESOLVE, Sarika Bansai,  Mississippians for Healthy Families, and NARAL.

Equal Rights to Family: A Key Moment for Your Voice?

I’m not a philosopher or a politician, but as a lawyer the concept and protection of equal rights for all is foundational to what I do. This principle grounds our constitution and our country.  Yet for more than 200 years, we have continued to struggle to apply this principle: who deserves equality under our laws — and in what areas of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Some Americans have always held some people more equal than others. There’s a world of more work to do, but witness how far we have come in discrimination against African Americans (1833 slavery, 1964 the right to vote) and women (1920, right to vote), children (1938, child labor law), farm workers (1964), and GLBT (2011, right to serve openly in military).

While we continue to fight for the freedom to marry for all Americans, another fight is close to my heart — the right to equal access to health care, including insurance coverage of infertility as an essential benefit.

These things take time. And typically, the steps are incremental.

Proposed in 2009, the American Family Building Act proposed requiring infertility coverage but failed to muster support. A new bill, the Family Act of 2011 S 965, introduced by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), calls for a tax credit for out-of-pocket costs associated with infertility medical treatment and will offer some financial relief from the high costs of infertility treatment, especially ART/IVF. This is a step in the right direction.

RESOLVE, a national infertility support and advocacy organization, has been working since 1974 to secure the equal access to all family building options for men and women experiencing infertility or other reproductive disorders.

Last year, RESOLVE established the Center for Infertility Justice to promote access to care, to fight attempts to restrict or eliminate care, and to provide research and data to support positive public policy for the infertility community. RESOLVE is the only patient advocacy group in the U.S. that fights for the rights of infertile women and men at a national and statewide legislative level.

Like every fight for equality throughout our history, it is vital to raise our voices and be heard.

One way to act today is to sign the Essential Health Benefits Petition urging Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius to designate infertility as an essential, pro-family benefit as part of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Another is to urge your two US state senators to sign on as a co-sponsor of Family Act of 2011 and invite your family and friends to write to their senators in support of your efforts.

In every fight for equality, there is an ebb and flow of energy and enthusiasm. For those of us lucky enought to get our baby, sometimes we get wrapped up in parenting and forget the fight that brought us to our baby. But just because we finally added to our family successfully doesn’t mean we can forget those left behind, and the generations that will battle infertility in the future.

Take the time today to stand up for your rights — and the rights of future generations.