For almost two decades now, legislators have introduced “Personhood Bills” to our legislature, which seek to define a “person” as a fertilized egg (zygote). Some believe these are transparent attempts to ban abortion, which has withstood over 4 decades of legal challenges. The bills (S217,H3530) that were introduced last year were passed out of subcommittee and are being heard by the full Judiciary committee this week (week of January 29th). They have the potential to bring harm to female patients well beyond simply preventing their ability to choose abortions and fertility care.
The bills will profoundly alter obstetrical and gynecologic care. There would be no ability to provide effective reversible contraception, leading to an increase in unintended pregnancies, with a cascade of harm to children, individuals, and families. There would be no ability to treat ectopic pregnancies since the embryos do not survive the treatment. There would be no in vitro fertilization (IVF), leaving a quarter of a million infertility patients in South Carolina without the most effective treatment. Because of all of these restrictions, it is likely that the medical school residency programs in our state would be in jeopardy due to the inability to be trained in contemporary treatments.
Coastal Fertility along with most physicians believe that an embryo is neither a person nor property, but an entity deserving special respect. However, the responsibility for determining what happens to an embryo lies with the progenitors of the embryo, not with the state. An embryo, in vitro or in vivo, is a cluster of cells that occasionally has the unique potential to grow into a full –fledged individual. Given the considerable uncertainty that any particular embryo will successfully develop to become a person, it is unreasonable and imbalanced to give constitutional rights to fertilized eggs and embryos.
Changing the definition of a word to fit a specific purpose as these bills seek to do is, of course, unethical. In addition, using a faith based definition, rather than a scientific definition may compromise the constitutional separation of church and state, but more importantly is simply incorrect: life is a continuum.
In the weeks that follow, we will keep you posted on the developments regarding these bills so that you can stand up for our patients best interests.