Summary: Personhood would ban any form of birth control which can possibly work after fertilization by preventing the embryo from implanting into the uterus. This could potentially include ordinary birth control pills, IUDs, and emergency contraception, but there is considerable debate about which precisely which methods might be affected.
- Barrier Contraception: NO EFFECT
- Birth Control Pills: POSSIBLE BAN
- IUDs: LIKELY BAN
- Emergency Contraception: POSSIBLE BAN
Both supporters and opponents of personhood agree that it would ban any birth control methods which can potentially have post-fertilization effects, even if that isn’t the primary way in which a method works. While science suggests that most hormonal contraception generally works before ovulation, the evidence is not conclusive, and many personhood supporters and pro-life individuals disagree. For example, the Supreme Court is currently weighing several legal challenges to the Obamacare contraception mandate by corporations who believe that emergency contraception and IUDs are “abortifacients”. Contraception availability would essentially become a political debate, and legislatures would be free to outlaw any methods where they could muster a majority of the votes.
Personhood would not affect barrier contraception, such as condoms and diaphragms, since these work exclusively by keeping sperm from reaching the egg and have no post-fertilization effects. Likewise, natural family planning (the “rhythm method”) would not be affected.
Birth Control Pills
While all forms of hormonal birth control work primarily by preventing ovulation, they also change the uterine lining in a way that theoretically can prevent fertilized eggs from implanting. Most pills’ FDA labeling indicates that this is a possible backup mechanism, but there is little scientific evidence to answer the question either way.
Personhood USA has branded various forms of hormonal contraception as “chemical abortion”, including the birth control implant and emergency contraception. Organizers of Mississippi’s 2011 personhood amendment stated that progestin-only oral contraceptives would be banned, and key spokespersons for Yes On 26 were on record as stating that they believe some or all types of birth control pills “cause abortion”. Many other personhood advocates, including the sponsor of the proposed 2012 Ohio initiative, the drafter of the proposed 2012 Colorado initiative, have made similar statements.
State personhood organizations in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Nevada are explicit that they consider birth control pills to be “chemical abortifacients” which are incompatible with personhood because of their potential implantation-prevention effects.
IUDs: LIKELY BAN
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) would quite possibly be prohibited under personhood. IUDs work primarily by killing sperm before they can reach the egg to fertilize it. but it is thought that they can also impair development and prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. They are nearly 100% effective when used as emergency contraception up to five days after intercourse, which strongly implies a post-implantation effect. For more discussion and links to journal posts, please see our post on Personhood and IUDs.
If IUDs were banned under personhood, this could potentially affect women with existing IUDs, since IUDs are inserted and remain in place for 5-10 years.
Emergency Contraception: POSSIBLE BAN
Emergency contraception (Plan B or the “morning-after pill”) is considered to be “abortifacient” by many personhood and pro-life advocates. While everyone agrees that it works primarily by preventing ovulation, the debate turns on whether it can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. Recent scientific evidence suggests that it either does not, or that this happens only very rarely, but there is still much dispute, both scientific and political. Opposition to emergency contraception is widespread in the pro-life movement; regardless of the science, it would likely be targeted by state legislatures in the event that personhood passed.
During the 2011 Mississippi campaign, organizers explicitly stated that emergency contraception would be banned, and referred to it as a “human pesticide”.
As of this writing (March 2014), the US Supreme Court has recently heard arguments in lawsuits from corporations which object to providing federally-mandated contraceptive insurance coverage for their employees because they believe that emergency contraception is an abortifacient. Both the corporations and the government response briefs stated that emergency contraception may sometimes prevent implantation, and Justice Scalia called them “abortifacients” during oral argument. The legal outcome of this case, and of potential personhood legislation, is not necessarily a question of science.