Monday, October 5, 2009

Flat Earth Follies: The Religious Right's Egg Crusade

Taking its “life begins at conception” charade from State Legislature to State legislature, one of the most dangerous political forces in the U.S. is stepping up its crusade for the “rights” of the unborn. Backed by an organization called Personhood USA, the latest offensive from the Religious Right involves a renewed movement to amend state constitutions to establish human rights and personhood status for fertilized eggs. Ever immune to morality, reason, church-state separation precedents and an understanding of the basic laws of biology, the most flat earth reactionary segment of the so-called pro-life movement wants to circumvent constitutional protections for abortion by conferring personhood on fertilized eggs. This would eviscerate the premise that women have a sovereign and singular right to control their bodies by designating rights even before implantation and a clinically viable pregnancy has been determined. For those who have any elementary grasp of the human reproductive process, conception does not automatically result in pregnancy and the majority of fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus. Yet if the egg crusade zealots had their way these new edicts would potentially criminalize any woman attempting to use birth control pills or IUDs, and jeopardize in vitro fertilization procedures and stem cell research.

Though the egg crusade has failed to gain the imprimatur of the National Right to Life Committee those who would dismiss such a campaign as too extreme to gain traction do so at their peril. According to the L.A. Times, earlier this year the egg crusaders were able to convince the North Dakota House of Representatives to pass a constitutional amendment on personhood although it was later vetoed by the State Senate. Colorado voters also rejected a similar ballot initiative 73% to 27%. Yet in California the egg crusaders are collecting signatures and whipping up support for an amendment insidiously dubbed the California Human Rights Amendment.

One of the most reprehensible arguments that the egg crusaders make to bolster their cause is a comparison between their movement and the movement to abolish slavery. Their website cites Joshua Giddings, a 19th century American anti-slavery legislator who held that “God” as “author” of all life grants the inalienable right to life to every being. Following this argument it is unclear who is exactly “enslaving” pre-implanted fertilized eggs. Is it potential mothers who arrogantly lay claim to their own bodies? Is it the state for failing to protect the right of pre-implanted fertilized eggs to implantation? By cloaking its propaganda in the rhetoric of civil and human rights the egg crusaders avoid delineation of the real life consequences for women, once again reducing them to vessels with no agency, right to privacy or control over their own bodies.

The website does not specify what rights un-implanted eggs would be conferred with other than, presumably, the right to progress to the implantation stage, fetal development and then birth. There are no details about who or what could act on the behalf of the un-implanted egg as person if the host carrier (formerly known as mother) of the egg were to determine that she should receive medical treatment. There was no information on who would legally be empowered to intervene or act on behalf of the un-implanted egg as person (the state perhaps?) to object to any stance that the mother might take. It stands to reason that if contraception were used to prevent the inalienable right of the egg as “person” to implant then host carriers who did so would be criminalized and prosecuted for murder. As a preventive measure, potentially offending host carriers could perhaps be fitted with special ankle bracelets or encoded with state monitored electronic microchips to preclude violations.

The Catholic and fundamentalist Christian activists at the forefront of the egg crusade are curiously silent on these small details. In true schizoid fashion they push for special faith-based government entitlements and yet scream about government interference, rallying big government to run roughshod over women’s fundamental right to privacy through a new regime of policing. And indeed, their own “family planning” policies have proven an abysmal failure, as evidenced by the exploding teen birth rates in Bible Belt states like Alabama and Mississippi in comparison to lower rates in the relatively godless Northeast and Northwest (abstinence-only sex education programs and fundamentalist Christian propaganda against fornication outside marriage would seem to be a source of cognitive dissonance for Southern teens).

The decidedly anti-human rights egg crusade would take this national obscenity one step further by deepening the region’s poverty and straining its already overburdened, single parent-averse social welfare net. The fervor of this “new” brand of anti-abortion activism only underscores the need for a vigorous secular defense against the continued incursions of the Religious Right. It’s either that or get ready for the ankle bracelets.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and a commentator for
Some of Us Are Brave KPFK 90.7 FM. This is an excerpt from her book Scarlet Letters on race/gender politics, atheism and secular belief in America.


steve said...

As a white, male atheist, primarily exposed to the writings of other white male atheists, it is refreshing to see an atheist viewpoint so eloquently expressed through another lens.

It makes me question some of my basic premises and that can only be a good thing.

Please keep up the good work.

Fuzzy Duck said...

This is really terrific. Thank you for writing this important article.

Anonymous said...

If you are going to claim a fertilized egg is not a human life, you need to specify exactly WHEN it becomes one. All of us were once fertilized eggs and this is just one stage of many we go thru.


steve said...


Actually not.

Religious wingnuts are making certain claims about when a "soul" enters a fertilized egg. It is up to the people making the claims to provide evidence for their position.

The atheist position is not that the egg does not have a "soul", but that no evidence has been provided that the egg acquires a "soul" at the moment of conception or at some point thereafter. I take a similar stance on the existence of fairies in my garden or an invisible pink unicorn in my garage.

Life is too short to have to disprove every claim made by credulous fools. If you think the egg has a "soul" at the moment of conception, please provide evidence. By the way, evidence does not include how you feel about the issue or extracts from a nasty book written by wandering goat herders who did not even understand germ theory. Not to denigrate the goat herders, they were ignorant, ignorance is remedied by knowledge. Willful ignorance, on the other hand, should be pointed out and socially censured.

Anonymous said...


I never mentioned a "soul" you did.

I mentioned "human life". I want a person who believes in abortion to tell me when human life begins. I believe human life begins at conception. And yes, some are not implanted and therefore die. Some are implanted and die before term. People die at all stages of life.

We know life ends at death, when does it begin?

Anonymous said...

@anonymous Don:

In my mind life begins at birth.

joe agnost

steve said...

It's my policy to not feed or otherwise encourage the trolls.

I am willing to poke them in the eye with a sharp stick on occasion.

DuckPhup said...

To those who say that "life begins at conception"... absolute rubbish. Life 'began'... on this planet, at least... several billion years ago. Since then, life has progressed in a 'continuum'.

If a law is passed to implement this ridiculous travesty, I think that we should insist that it include a provision to prohibit sexual intercourse until the child is born. It seems to me that it should be considered disrespectful and insensitive to intermittently douche these (presumably sentient) miniature egg-people with male ejaculate. After all, once the vessel is fulfilling her god-given function, any further intercourse is obviously in selfish pursuit of her own pleasure, and is thus... inarguably... sinful.

Anonymous said...

Discussion about life is a troll?

Calling another a name instead of answering the question?

If you think life begins at birth, then what is the state of the unborn child before birth? Not alive? This idea is preposterous.

I have no doubt about this being about rights, it is just that the rights of the unborn child are being discarded in order to justify discarding the child when desired.


Anonymous said...

Life began many many moons ago and exists in a continuum since then, I agree.

However, a sperm or an egg are not human life. Only when fused do they become human life.


Mer said...

Don, it's not that they're "human" that matters, it's when they become a "person" that does.
Being human does not automatically make a fetus, a "person".
You gain personhood the moment you take your first breath outside of the womb, and not before. That is when the rights of the baby (no longer a fetus) begin.
Granting rights to a fetus who's still in the womb would also mean taking away individual rights from the pregnant women.

Anonymous said...


I am glad to agree with you that a fetus is a human being, a human life.

I agree that in the USA the question of law is whether it is a person with rights. The Supreme Court famously wrote before the Civil War that Dred Scott had no rights as a slave to petition the court and threw out his case, so personhood is an important concept. Do you agree with the Supreme Court that Dred Scott was not a person with rights?

There is always the possibility of the tyranny of the powerful over the powerless in any form of government. Right now, the US Supreme Court says an unborn human
being is not a person, that they have no rights; yet if a person kills a mother and kills the fetus; it can be considered a capital crime; the only difference
is whether the mother wants the baby or not. In other words, the current law is schizophrenic, as what the mother wants has no bearing on the status of what the baby is, whether it is a person or a non-person.

Once a government declares some human beings as non-persons, they start to act like other governments who have declared some humans as non-persons, we only need to look to WWII for examples, so this is very scary for me.

Anonymous said...

I didn't take long for anonymous_Don to drag slavery and WWII into this. It's clear that the anti-choice side has nothing new to add - just the same old 'slavery' or 'hilter' BS over and over.

The main point was stated well by Mer: "Granting rights to a fetus who's still in the womb would also mean taking away individual rights from the pregnant women."

It's really as simple as that! I choose to side with the independent, post-born human being over the dependent (on the woman), pre-born human fetus... I think any compassionate human being would feel the same way.

Joe Agnost.

Anonymous said...

I think the slave argument is quite good; the premise that a foetus has human rights means women would become slaves to the foetus, or even the possibility of a foetus if you remove the right to use contraception etc. This isn't an argument about freeing slaves it's a drive to make women slaves to the beliefs and desires of others.
IMO the fertilised egg becomes a human when it is no longer part of somebody else.

justjohn said...


I am sharing with my Facebook friends.

Mer said...

Don (Anonymous) your argument about slavery is illogical.

Dred Scott was already a person because he was no longer a fetus inside a woman's womb. He gained personhood the moment he was born and took his first breath.

"Right now, the US Supreme Court says an unborn human
being is not a person, that they have no rights; yet if a person kills a mother and kills the fetus; it can be considered a capital crime; the only difference
is whether the mother wants the baby or not."

Correct, that is the only difference. If the woman wants the fetus, then it is protected because of her. If she does not want it, it has no rights.

I say again, granting personhood to a fetus will also mean taking away individual rights away from women.
What about birth control? It could be made illegal.
What horror, I have no desire to live in such a world where women are seen only as baby factories.

dites_moi_ou_pas said...

@Mer - bravo! Quite elegantly said.

I second your comments

Anonymous said...

The Supreme Court has ruled that the fetus has no rights and the right of the woman to abort is supreme. The question is about rights. The powerful have rights and the powerless in this case have none.

The craziness of it is that ANY limits on the right of the woman to abort at any time are fought tooth and nail. And with advances in neonatal care, we now have the situation where MANY babies that are aborted are viable outside the womb.

It is a death ethic, where death is seen as a solution to a problem. And such a type of ethic
can grow to include others who might be seen as unwanted.

P.S. I have no desire to limit anyone's access to contraception, I simply do not agree that death is a good solution.

Mer said...

To the Anonymous above me

It is impossible abort a baby. You can however, murder one (which is already illegal)

Did you know that a fetus, at 24 weeks, has less then a 15% chance (Someone correct me if I'm wrong on that) of surviving if born prematurely? Even with our medical advances, it would still be cruel and unethical to allow a non-viable fetus to be born just to allow it to die a slow and natural death.

But you are right at the last bit. If a fetus is seen as unwanted, then it is unwanted and thus, will be treated as unwanted. Oh fucking well, it's a fetus, not a person.

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