[Hope you're all enjoying your summer! We're on a light posting schedule for the next several weeks, but we'll be gearing back up as the fall election season approaches.]

While personhood bills were proposed in several states during the 2012 legislative season, every single piece of proposed legislation failed to pass into law.

With personhood having failed to pass in any state legislature in 2012, attention now turns to the various proposed ballot initiatives. Seven states filed paperwork to gather signatures to put personhood on the 2012 ballot: California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Oregon.

We’ve previously discussed that the Oklahoma petition effort was rejected by the State Supreme Court. While personhood advocates claim that they will be taking their case to the US Supreme Court, and that this will enable them to overturn Roe v Wade, we think they’re mistaken on both counts. We’ll discuss that situation in more depth in a separate post, but for now, Oklahoma will not vote on personhood in 2012.

In California, amendment sponsors announced that they failed to meet the signature threshold of over 807,000 signatures by the April 30th deadline, and that the measure will not appear on the 2012 ballot.

Last week, Nevada amendment sponsors announced that they too had failed to gather the required 72,000 signatures.

Though neither Nevada nor California sponsors would state how many signatures that they had gathered, it’s reasonable to assume that they fell significantly short of their requirements, since both groups made their concessions well in advance. (A previous California effort in 2010 failed to meet the threshold by approximately 100,000 raw signatures, even before analyzing signatures to make sure they’re from valid registered voters.)

Signature-gathering efforts are still underway in Colorado, Montana, Ohio, and Oregon. Deadlines are as follows:

  • Montana: 48,674 signatures by June 22
  • Ohio: 385,247 signatures by July 4
  • Oregon: 116,283 signatures by July 6
  • Colorado: 86,105 signatures by August 5

The Montana deadline is this Friday, but we don’t expect to know whether they’ve actually made their goal for another several days. After the initiative backers submit their signatures, they must be analyzed by election officials to see if they belong to valid registered voters. In their 2010 effort, sponsors submitted over 53,000 signatures, but only 39,588 signatures were determined to be valid, and the initiative did not make the ballot.

Check back with us in the coming weeks for the ballot information in these states!

Oklahoma: Initiative petition ruled unconstitutional

April 30th, 2012 | Posted by Atlee Breland in Legislation | Oklahoma - (Comments Off)

Following the final defeat of SB-1433 in Oklahoma, personhood advocates hoped that their initiative petition would place a personhood amendment on the November ballot. Today, the state Supreme Court ruled that the petition was unconstitional:

The state’s highest court ruled unanimously that the proposal violates a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision and “is clearly unconstitutional.”

The Court’s ruling, available here, is a one-page decision affirming that ballot initiatives cannot directly conflict with the US Constitution according to the Oklahoma constitution. Since the ballot initiative conflicts with existing abortion decisions Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey, it cannot proceed forward.

This ruling reaffirms the Court’s 1992 decision that a ballot initiative could not be used to challenge the federal constitution. In the 1992 case, an attempt to outlaw abortion via ballot initiative was rejected because it conflicted with Planned Parenthood v Casey, and today’s ruling references the earlier decision.

Twenty years ago, this Court was presented with an initiative which facially conflicted with the Casey decision. This Court held: “The issue of the constitutionality of the initiative petition is governed by the United States Supreme Court in Casey.”

The only course available to this Court is to follow what the United States Supreme Court, the final arbiter of the United States Constitution, has decreed.

The mandate of Casey is as binding on this Court today as it was twenty years ago. Initiative Petition No. 395 conflicts with Casey and is void on its face and is thereby ordered stricken.

Since state courts are usually the last resort for state constitutional questions, it is presumed that the initiative petition will not appear on the November ballot, and that initiative petitions will not be allowed to proceed in future years.

Reports out of the Oklahoma Capitol this evening are that personhood supporters will attempt to bring SB-1433 to a vote tomorrow morning via an obscure procedural tactic.

The Republican caucus decided in two separate whip counts (private vote tallies) that SB-1433 should not be brought to the floor, but a few disgruntled representatives are seeking to override that decision and force a vote.

We urge you to call or email Oklahoma representatives NOW and ask them not to resurrect SB-1433.

Earlier this afternoon, the Oklahoma House leadership held a press conference announcing their decision not to take up SB-1433:

The House Republican caucus met early Thursday afternoon and decided not to take the measure up this year, Steele told a state Capitol press conference.

“This decision was not made unilaterally, but as a caucus collectively,” Steele said. “I accept the will of our caucus.”

While it’s never truly over until the legislative session adjourns, we’re delighted to see that personhood will apparently not pass in the Oklahoma Legislature this year.

SB-1433 had a record-setting number of potential amendments, many of which were authored by a physician representative who hoped to protect infertility treatment, contraception, and pregnancy care. Oklahoma representatives spoke eloquently about the potential difficulties of this bill for doctors and patients, and we commend them for their recognition that the complex medical issues raised by personhood should be left to patients and doctors.

The state still faces a potential ballot initiative, which is currently gathering signatures against a June 1 deadline.

Personhood and Clomid

April 13th, 2012 | Posted by Atlee Breland in Birth Control | IVF | Legislation | Mississippi | Oklahoma - (Comments Off)

When we talk about birth control and personhood, we frequently get bogged down in the details of whether a given method of birth control does or does not prevent implantation.

We all agree that any form of birth control which has a post-fertilization effect would be prohibited under personhood, but people can and do differ on which drugs and devices might have such an effect.

So, let’s talk about a medication which is generally agreed to have a post-fertilization effect: the infertility drug Clomid.

Clomid is an infertility treatment for women who don’t ovulate well. It is the most commonly prescribed infertility medication, and it is often prescribed by OB-GYNs as a first treatment. If the patient fails to respond to Clomid, she is then referred to a reproductive endocrinologist for more aggressive therapies such as IUI and IVF.

Clomid works by blocking the brain’s estrogen receptors, thereby fooling the brain into thinking that it needs to stimulate the ovaries more. Women on Clomid often produce more than one egg, and it carries a 10% risk of twins.

However, Clomid is also known to have a detrimental effect on the uterine lining, even when ovulation occurs.

It is well known that clomiphene treatment reduces endometrial thickness (Randall and Templeton, 1991; Yagel et al., 1992), and that, in such patients, pregnancy rates are low in spite of high ovulatory rates

In other words, Clomid can damage the endometrium so that fertilized eggs cannot successfully implant and develop. This is a well-known, non-controversial side effect of Clomid. There is direct evidence of its effect on endometrial thickness and composition, and indirect evidence that the pregnancy rate is substantially lower than expected from the ovulation rate.

If personhood prohibits the usage of medications which can potentially prevent fertilized eggs from implanting, it will certainly prohibit Clomid as well. This will have a devastating effect on infertile couples, especially those who use Clomid because it is inexpensive and less intrusive than IUI and IVF.

Once again, we see that personhood is fundamentally incompatible with infertility treatment. Not only does it take away our access to IVF, but it also threatens to deny us the usage of lower-level treatments.

In our previous post, we stated that the latest language change to SB-2771 has the potential to impact IVF, birth control, and medical care for pregnancy complications.

We have already received responses from the bill’s author, Rep. Andy Gipson, and from pro-life lobbyist Terri Herring stating that the bill “refers to a homicide law that has been on the books for years”. Rep. Gipson posted the following to our Parents Against Personhood Facebook page:

You do understand that when you oppose SB 2771, you are opposing current Mississippi law. Current law provides the definition of “human being” and “unborn child” at Section 97-3-37(1) relating to killing of unborn children: the same definition we used to define “child” under the new child homicide bill: “(1) For purposes of the offenses enumerated in this subsection (1), the term “human being” includes an unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth and the term “unborn child” means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.” Want to make sure your followers understand this reality. If the current law doesn’t stop IVF, how could this? We’re only trying to stop abortion in Mississippi.

The current version of SB-2771 states that a person is found guilty of child homicide when manslaughter of a child occurs “in circumstances where the killing, although without malice, was intentional and not accidental”. The bill states that it uses the definition of child homicide found in §93-3-37 of the Mississippi Code, which includes “unborn children” from conception on.

Rep. Gipson’s bill goes on to state that child homicide does NOT apply to abortions where there is no detectable heartbeat, when rape has occurred, or when it is “medically necessary to prevent the death of the mother”.

The original wrongful death statute states that manslaughter does not apply to lawful medical procedures, including legal abortion. Were it not for the medical exemption, it’s very clear that §93-3-37 would criminalize IVF. Parts of the IVF process, such as embryo cryopreservation, are clearly manslaughter if performed on people. They are done without malice, but the known substantial risk of embryo loss means that they meet the legal definition of intention. We could avoid the embryo loss by choosing not to do cryopreservation; when we proceed with it anyway, it’s a deliberate act which would rise to the level of manslaughter.

SB-2771 says that the crime of child homicide applies when a person is found guilty of manslaughter of an embryo, fetus, or child, unless it is an abortion done under the specified exemptions of no heartbeat, rape, or medical necessity. However, you can’t currently be found guilty of manslaughter for performing an abortion on a first-trimester embryo with a heartbeat, because first trimester abortion is legal in Mississippi for any reason.

Therefore, one of two things MUST be true: either Rep. Gipson’s bill will not prevent abortion on embryos with heartbeats, or the medical exemption of §93-3-37 is no longer valid.

The medical exemption of §93-3-37 is all that protects IVF and contraception from being considered manslaughter. If SB-2771 criminalizes legal abortions for embryos with heartbeats, it must logically override the medical exemption, thereby threatening IVF and contraception. SB-2771 therefore creates a circular reasoning: a lawful medical procedure is one which does not result in the death of an embryo or fetus, except under the specific circumstances outlined in the bill.

IVF is not protected by any of the exemptions listed in SB-2771. Embryo disposition and cryopreservation are not considered abortion under Mississippi law, because our abortion statute makes specific reference to a “woman pregnant with child”. Since clinical pregnancy has not yet begun while the embryos are still in the lab, they don’t fall into the category of “a legal abortion where there is no detectable heartbeat”. They likewise are not the product of alleged rape or incest, and there is no medical necessity.

The same logic holds true for contraception, and drugs like Clomid, which can potentially prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. In fact, the previous heartbeat language offered more explicit protection for contraception and medical complications of pregnancy. Contraception has been removed from this version of the bill, and the medical exception has been tightened to no longer include “a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman”. In our view, the current langauge is inadequate to protect the lives and physical health of women suffering from pregnancy complications.

If an abortion of an embryo with a heartbeat is to be considered manslaughter, then so must any other injury or destruction of a fertilized egg. SB-2771 states that the provisions of child homicide shall not apply to the situations of subsection 2 (d), and the logical corollary is that child homicide SHALL apply to all other situations.

While that may not be Rep. Gipson’s intent, the law means what the law says. The ART law experts we have consulted believe that SB-2771 could potentially be used to prosecute doctors for performing IVF procedures which result in the loss of embryos. That’s what makes this personhood — the original language of §93-3-37, combined with the removal of the medical exemption, establishes that embryos and fetuses are protected by the law as people.

Again, we did NOT believe that previous heartbeat language could be used against IVF and contraception, and we felt that the medical exception was adequate to protect women’s lives and health. We view the new language as unacceptably broad, and fear that its effects will be felt in all aspects of women’s reproductive health care.

In our previous statement on Mississippi’s “heartbeat bill”, HB-1196, we expressed concern about some personhood-like language while staying neutral on the overall bill.

The original heartbeat bill died in the Senate, but its sponsor, Rep. Andy Gipson, appended its exact language to another bill, SB-2771. Late yesterday afternoon, Rep. Gipson amendmed SB-2771 yet again, to the version found here, which was subsequently passed by the House.

We have put the new language through legal review, and we have concluded that this is personhood.

SB-2771 in its current form would carry the potential to severely impact IVF, contraception, and even common fertility drugs like Clomid. It could threaten women’s access to medical treatment to preserve their lives and physical health. Essential components of the IVF process, such as embryo cryopreservation, could now potentially meet the definition of “child homicide” and result in criminal charges against doctors.

I want to emphasize that this is NOT A REVERSAL of our previous position, because this bill is no longer simply a heartbeat ban. The revised language carries all the possibility for unintended consequences that Initiative 26 presented, and that caused Mississippi voters to reject personhood by a 58-42 margin.

We continue to be neutral on the question of the heartbeat ban, but due to the potential non-abortion consequences of this latest revision, we oppose SB-2771 and regard it as a personhood bill.

Rep. Gipson has filed two separate personhood amendments this session, plus an anti-IVF bill which would have stopped Mississippi couples from building their families. He has made it very clear that his intentions are to impose personhood and end IVF in Mississippi any way he can. With the latest amendment to SB-2771, he has shown that he will break the legislative rules in order to cram personhood down Mississippians’ throats.

We call upon the Senate, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, and Senate Judiciary B Chairman Hob Bryan to stop Rep. Gipson’s abuse of the legislative process, and to reject his addition of personhood to SB-2771.

We encourage you all to contact your senators, the Lt. Governor, and Chairman Bryan TODAY in order to oppose this latest attempt to defy our rejection of Initiative 26 and threaten Mississippi families’ access to medical care and family-building options.

We will be explaining our position in more depth in subsequent posts over the next several days, and exploring the legal issues with you. However, we want you all to know that we consider this to be a personhood bill, and we hope that you will take immediate action to contact the Senate.

IVF: The next target in the personhood war

April 5th, 2012 | Posted by Atlee Breland in IVF | Media | Mississippi | Oklahoma - (Comments Off)

In a Chicago suburb, a doctor is planning to build a new medical office.

Why is this national news? Because this doctor is a reproductive endocrinologist. He treats infertility patients — patients like me and my husband. He runs tests to diagnose us, treats our endometriosis or PCOS or hypothalamic amenorrhea, monitors our hormone levels, and prescribes us infertility medications like Clomid. If none of those lesser interventions work, he offers us IVF.

And for that last, pro-life groups decided this doctor should not be able to open his new building. They decided to fight its zoning permission on the grounds that IVF is immoral.

“This evening the City Council is not addressing questions simply of zoning, planning and property use,” Mike Brummond said. “It’s consenting to a particular world view for the people of Naperville. Will you choose a world view in which a child is not procreated but manufactured?”

Even a City Council member opposed the clinic, saying “We’ve got to ask ourselves is this a preferred use? Is this right for our community? I’m convinced it’s not.”

Ultimately, the City Council decided to approve the new building, but that’s not the end of the story: local pro-life groups are planning to hold protests.

Yes, you read that right. Protests, at an infertility doctor’s office, targeting infertile couples and their doctors.

We’re not talking about people who “made bad choices”, whatever that means. Infertility patients are people with diseases, actual physical conditions like endometriosis or azoospermia or premature ovarian failure. Cancer survivors, and spinal cord injury patients. People like me, and like the 1 in 8 couples who will experience infertility, who just want to become mothers and fathers.

Can you imagine a city council member opposing a pediatrician’s office, or a cancer clinic, or a dentist? Can you imagine you might have to walk through a gauntlet of screaming protesters to get into to your doctor’s office to get treated for heart disease or cancer?

Time was, I couldn’t fathom that my infertility doctor might be treated that way, either. As my dear friend Renee Whitley says at the RESOLVE blog, “Even though I don’t live in Illinois, this feels so personal to me”. She’s so right that it’s difficult to watch our disease under attack.

But that’s where personhood has brought us.

I’ve said on many occasions that infertile couples should not be caught in the crossfire of the pro-choice/pro-life divide, but it’s becoming clear that IVF isn’t just an unintended consequence — it’s the new battlefield.

There’s no more middle ground here, no more room for personhood advocates to claim that “we don’t want to hurt IVF”. When you’re attempting to drive my doctor’s office out of your town, and protest it like it’s an abortion clinic, you don’t get to claim you support my right to build a family through infertility treatment.

If you truly believe that zygotes and blastocysts are the full legal and moral equivalent of people like you and me, then yes, you need to agree with Personhood USA that IVF is not “respectful of basic human dignity”, and that it should be restricted out of existence. You need to say that IUI is wrong, because of the risk of high-order multiples. You need to say that Clomid is wrong, because it can prevent fertilized eggs from implanting. And you need to stand with the pro-life protesters outside my doctor’s office.

Me, I know exactly where I stand:

What do infertility patients look like?

The general public and the media thinks we look like upper-middle-class professional women in our late 30s. And yes, some of us do fit that description — but infertility’s effects go far beyond the stereotype.

They look like this:
The faces of infertility

40% of couples with infertility have male-factor issues.

Cancer treatment saves lives, but it can also damage survivors’ fertility. IVF and assisted reproduction can provide them with family-building options.

Infertility treatment means that injured veterans don’t have to sacrifice their dreams of parenthood too.

Patients with spinal cord injuries can become parents with the help of infertility physicians.

Infertility patients might even look like this:
Oklahoma House Public Health Committee

These are the members of the Oklahoma House’s Public Health Committee. Most are men. One is a cancer survivor. One has a spinal cord injury. And given that infertility affects more than 1 in 8 Americans, the odds say that at least one of these legislators has personally experienced infertility.

On Tuesday, these legislators will vote on the personhood bill, Oklahoma SB-1433. We need every voice to stop it, and keep medical treatment and family-building options available for all Oklahomans.

On Monday, please call Rep. John Enns and ask him to keep IVF available for other spinal cord injury survivors like himself. Call the other committee members and ask them to listen to the Oklahoma medical community.

Placing a simple phone call is the most important thing you can do to stop SB-1433. Find out how to call your legislators, and please, help stop SB-1433.

Late Friday afternoon, Rep. Lisa Billy, the House sponsor of SB-1433, proposed a committee amendment to her bill.

Rep. Billy’s amendment adds a new paragraph to the bill, which reads as follows:

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit contraception or in vitro fertilization. The authority to regulate in vitro fertilization procedures is reserved to the Legislature.

This language is absolutely inadequate to protect infertility treatment. It’s not necessary to outright prohibit IVF in order to regulate it out of existence — and that is exactly what SB-1433 will enable the Legislature to do.

If SB-1433 passes, Oklahoma legislators will have the explicit authority to tell your doctor how to practice medicine. They will be able to implement restrictions like those proposed in Mississippi’s HB-1114, banning cryopreservation and limiting physicians to attempt to fertilize an unreasonably small number of eggs.

Would you support a law which said that the Oklahoma Legislature reserves the authority to regulate which cancer treatments are available to patients? Do you think your legislators ought to have the power to regulate heart surgery, or childbirth delivery options? If not, why on earth should they be able to determine your medical family-building options?

The proposed amendment is meaningless, because it does not define contraception or IVF. It doesn’t specify whether contraception includes birth control methods which can also potentially prevent implantation, such as Plan B and the IUD, methods which personhood advocates commonly term “abortifacients” rather than contraceptives. It does not answer critical questions about which vital parts of the IVF process, such as embryo cryopreservation, might or might not be protected. It leaves these details to the discretion of local judges, prosecutors, and legislators, leaving patients’ healthcare rights as threatened as ever.

This amendment, from the bill’s own co-author, makes it perfectly clear that SB-1433 is not and has never been a matter of mere “foundational principles”. It’s about violating infertility patients’ rights to medical privacy. It’s about government intrusion into all aspects of reproductive healthcare. It’s about legislators telling doctors how to practice medicine.

SB-1433 is absolutely unacceptable, with or without Rep. Billy’s amendment. Please call your Oklahoma representatives immediately and ask them to oppose SB-1433 on Tuesday.