Pregnancy and Personhood


Pregnancy Justice fights for and defends the personhood of all people with the capacity for pregnancy.

Throughout U.S. history, the capacity for pregnancy and pregnancy itself have been used to deny people their constitutional and human rights or their personhood. Indeed, many groups of people in the U.S. have not yet achieved “personhood,” a status that demands recognition and protection under the law as human beings with full legal rights.

Current efforts to establish personhood for fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses act as brilliant distractions from actual personhood movements such as Black Lives Matter.

For enslaved Black women, their capacity to get pregnant (often through rape by the people who enslaved them) and to produce more humans who could be enslaved, fueled both slavery and capitalism, systems that denied Black women and men their legal personhood. For white women who sought equal participation in society, their capacity for pregnancy was used as an explicit justification for denying them rights equal to those of white men. For example, in an 1872 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Illinois’ ban on women becoming lawyers, concurring Justice Brady explained that the basis for such a ban was “The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society.” Bradwell v. The State, 83 U.S. 130 (1872).

In addition to so-called “personhood” measures, many other laws and court decisions that involve pregnancy provide the basis for denying people with the capacity for pregnancy their personhood. Such laws include anti-abortion laws, feticide laws, laws prohibiting health care providers from respecting a pregnant patient’s advanced directives, criminal laws as well as civil commitment and child protections laws that permit detention of pregnant people, laws that deny parental rights based on a person's health and health care decisions during pregnancy and court decisions upholding forced surgery on pregnant patients are just some examples of ways in which “personhood” is denied to all who have capacity for pregnancy.

Pregnancy Justice knows that it is not possible to add fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses to the community of constitutional persons without subtracting people with the capacity for pregnancy.

Pregnancy Justice believes that no person should fear arrest or be subjected to government control or retribution as a result of pregnancy or any outcome of pregnancy.

Call us or have your lawyer reach us at 212-255-9252.