The failures of fetal personhood

Since Roe v. Wade, Congress has typically used the power of the purse when it has wanted to restrict access to abortion. But GOP Presidential hopefuls are looking for other options.

At a Fox News debate in August, Mike Huckabee claimed that, as President, he would invoke the protections of the 5th and 14th Amendment on behalf of fetuses in order to prevent women from having abortions. Later, at the Family Research Council’s Annual Value Voters Summit in September, Huckabee argued that defunding Planned Parenthood simply does not go far enough. Reinforcing the promise he made in August, Huckabee thundered “[i]t’s called the Fifth Amendment, that says that there will be due process before you deprive a person of life and liberty. As president, we will evoke the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment. We will protect human life.”

Second Nexus
Mike Huckabee. Credit: Source.

Huckabee’s vows, however, are little more than empty promises; the President, of course, does not have the power to unilaterally overturn Roe v. Wade. But more problematic is Huckabee’s constitutional argument, which rests on the assumption that fertilized eggs should be granted full personhood.

Legislating Personhood

The notion that Congress might enact a law conferring personhood rights upon the unborn is not new. In 1982, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina attempted to introduce a personhood bill. He eventually backed down, removing the language conferring personhood upon embryos at the time of conception. More recently, at the Palmetto Freedom Forum in 2011, Princeton professor Robert P. George asked GOP Presidential hopefuls whether they would support personhood legislation. According to Michael J. New of National Review, “Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich said they would support such legislation. Ron Paul said that crime should be a state-level issue.”

Then, two years ago, Rand Paul introduced the Life at Conception Act in the Senate. According to Paul, Roe v. Wade would be null and void were Congress to pass such a bill. As reporter Olivia Nuzzi explained, “Paul was adamant that the proposal would not ‘amend or interpret the Constitution’ but would instead rely ‘on the 14th

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