New Paper: The "Personhood" Movement Versus Individual Rights

Despite the defeats of "personhood" measures in 2008 and 2010, Colorado voters will once again vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to grant all the rights of born persons to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses in November 2014.

The Coalition for Secular Government is pleased to announce an updated and expanded paper on the "personhood" movement by Diana Hsieh and Ari Armstrong, titled "The 'Personhood' Movement Versus Individual Rights: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception." The paper is currently available for download as a PDF or for reading as an HTML page.

Formats: HTML / PDF

Media Release

New Paper Criticizes "Personhood" Movement and Colorado's Amendment 67
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Coalition for Secular Government:

A new paper criticizes the "personhood" movement and Colorado's Amendment 67, a measure that would treat abortion as murder under the law; outlaw abortion even in cases of rape, incest, risks to a woman's health, and severe fetal deformity; outlaw some types of birth control; outlaw common forms of in vitro fertility treatments; and ban embryonic stem-cell research.

The 54-page paper, coauthored by Diana Hsieh and Ari Armstrong, offers extensive historical and scientific background on the "personhood" movement, abortion, and related matters. The paper also offers philosophic arguments supporting a woman's right to seek an abortion.

"Amendment 67 is extremely misleading in its language," Hsieh said. "The proponents of the measure apparently want voters to believe that it is about protecting pregnant women from vicious criminal attacks, but the reality is that the measure would treat women as murderers for getting an abortion or even for using certain types of birth control or in vitro fertility treatments."

Amendment 67 seeks to extend full legal protections to "unborn human beings," which its sponsors define as all embryos from the moment of conception.

As the new paper discusses, Colorado law already establishes criminal penalties for harming a pregnant woman's embryo or fetus against her consent.

Colorado's New "Personhood for Zygotes" Amendment

Despite the defeats of "personhood" measures in 2008 and 2010, the crusaders against abortion rights have returned with yet another attempt to grant the full legal rights of personhood to fertilized eggs.

If you have any questions about the paper, please email Diana Hsieh.

The ballot question reads:

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution protecting pregnant women and unborn children by defining "person" and "child" in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings? (Full Text)

If successful, this measure would outlaw therapeutic and elective abortions, common fertility treatments, and popular forms of birth control. It would subject women and their doctors to intrusive police controls and unjust criminal prosecutions. It would force Coloradoans to abide by the deeply religious and sectarian view that the fertilized egg is imbued with rights from God.

Due to its misleading wording -- particularly its talk of "protecting pregnant women" -- 2014's Amendment 67 will likely fare significantly better in the polls than the "personhood" amendments proposed in 2008 and 2010. It's unlikely to pass, but that doesn't mean that abortion rights are secure. The dangerous ideology of "personhood" has spread like wildfire in the past four years among religious conservatives. In the 2012 presidential election, every Republican candidate except Mitt Romney endorsed "personhood for zygotes."

The ideology of "personhood for zygotes" must be steadfastly opposed -- based on a firm understanding of rights in pregnancy -- not merely because "it goes too far."

Colorado's Past "Personhood" Measures

In 2008, anti-abortion activists put Amendment 48 on the ballot in Colorado, seeking to define a fertilized egg as a person with full legal rights in the state constitution. The Coalition for Secular Government vigorously opposed this measure. Happily, Colorado voters rejected it resoundingly: 73% against and 27% in favor.

In 2010, these anti-abortion activists presented Colorado voters with a very similar "personhood" ballot measure: Amendment 62. Once again, Colorado voters rejected the measure resoundingly: 71% against and 29% in favor.

About the Authors

Ari Armstrong is an assistant editor of The Objective Standard. He blogs at, and he has written for publications including the Denver Post and Complete Colorado. 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.

Dr. Diana Hsieh is a philosopher specializing in practical ethics. Her radio show, Philosophy in Action Radio, broadcasts live over the internet on Sunday mornings and most Thursday evenings. Her first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, is available for purchase in paperback and kindle formats. She is also the author of Explore Atlas Shrugged -- a course of podcasts and discussion questions on Ayn Rand's epic novel. She received her Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. She founded the Coalition for Secular Government in 2008. She lives with her husband Paul Hsieh and a small menagerie of beasts in Sedalia, Colorado.


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