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An Attack on Personhood

North Dakota is now home to the most strict abortion restrictions in the nation after Governor Dalrymple recently signed three bills aimed at eliminating abortions within the state. This direct challenge to one of the most famous Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade, demands that the country reexamine its stance on abortion exactly 40 years after the Supreme Court handed down their decision, stating that women have the right to have an abortion performed.

In 1973, the Supreme Court decided that the right to privacy granted in the Constitution (by bringing together the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, and 14th Amendments) encapsulated a woman’s right to have an abortion. In 1969, Norma McCorvey (going by Jane Roe) discovered she was pregnant and decided that she wanted to have an abortion. However, in her home state of Texas, a woman was only able to have access to the option if she had a medical recommendation for the abortion stating that abortion was the only way to save the life of the mother.The case was ultimately brought to the Supreme Court, which handed down a 7-2 majority decision in favor of Roe. The Supreme Court ruled that a state cannot completely deny a woman the right to terminate pregnancy, but that it does have a vested interest in protecting human life, whether that is the life of the mother or of the fetus in later stages of the pregnancy.

Roe v. Wade stated that abortions were acceptable and would be permitted until the fetus was viable outside of the womb, which is generally around 24 weeks.

North Dakota’s new abortion law does not allow abortions past when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks.

While North Dakota’s new measures are the strictest in the nation, they’re not arising in solitude. Many other states, including Ohio, Kansas, and Arkansas, are attempting to limit the availability of abortion within the state, bringing forth measures banning abortion after fetal heartbeat or bringing back the 24 week standard to something more like 20 weeks.

There are several implications of this new legislation, both practical and theoretical.

Practically, this will obviously lead to many women in North Dakota being unable to procure a safe abortion. This may decrease the total number of abortions in North Dakota, but it will not eliminate abortion. Women do not take the decision to have an abortion lightly. Many women become pregnant through no “fault” of their own. Women who took precautions and practiced safe sex still became pregnant, and many cannot feasibly raise a child. Regardless, women who are not able to responsibly raise a child may resort to desperate measures and dangerous, unprofessional abortions. Furthermore, many women in North Dakota who will be forced to keep their pregnancy will not be able to provide for their children without the assistance of substantial welfare programs. The state cannot ethically force women to keep their pregnancy but offer no support once the child has been born. To be pro-life, a government cannot only outlaw abortion. It has to provide for the citizens that are exposed to life threatening experiences every day: the homeless, the hungry, and the sick deserve the state’s support, too.

Theoretically, the state is taking away something essential to personhood: autonomy. A person is not able to reach their potential as a human if he or she is not allowed to decide how their life should be. Someone unable to decide their life experience is not autonomous, but rather is controlled by whoever is enforcing restrictions upon them. By being controlled by another, a person loses something distinct about being a person. Philosophy has a history of distinguishing people from animals by the human ability to make rational decisions and to live their lives according to those decisions. When the state of North Dakota encroaches on a woman’s ability to make autonomous decisions, the government is actively eroding the personhood of that woman for the sake of the fetus.

Very few people will argue that abortion is a good option. However, when government essentially takes the option of abortion off the table by only allowing abortions up to six weeks in—before many women even know that they are pregnant—that government essentially forces low-income women without the option of traveling to another state for an abortion to procure unhygienic, dangerous abortions. Even more troubling, the government is taking away the woman’s ability to be autonomous, preventing her from living a self-determined life.

North Dakota is prioritizing personhood, and women are losing.


  1. Sam Sam October 20, 2013

    Emma, some ok discussion on this topic; however it’s missing those key items which many pro-abortion articles lack in discussing.

    First, Roe V Wade doesn’t give women “the right to have an abortion performed-” it affords them privacy to have one performed under the 14th Amendment, and only to a certain point. As you admit later in your piece, abortion is only covered until around 24, or viability. Since this is not an absolute right, and has a sunset clause of sorts, it can very well be argued abortion is not some inalienable right with which women are born (ironic use of that word is deliberate).

    As a poly-sci major, you’re probably also aware that “Personhood” is not a scientific or biological term- it’s a legal one. While that’s what I like about the law- it can be amended and changed- scientific laws cannot. Specifically, a truth- the scientific law that we are human at conception- cannot be changed. We are totipotent, have a complete chromosomal make-up, have a sex assigned, and have the genetic code imbued in us to carry us the rest of our lives: All happen at conception.

    Ignoring the total subjectiveness in detirmining when it occurs, terms like “viability” have no place in determining when it’s ok to kill an unborn human. To say a baby “can survive outside the womb” is a horrible metric to determine the worth of their life; after all- a 2-year old cannot survive by themselves outside the womb. They would starve to death in a fully-stocked kitchen; yet we do not say that they deserve less to live for it.

    Roe v Wade is archaic. We need a new, correct dialogue which emphasizes science, logic, and reason more; and in the right context, we’ll be able to prioritize life a little better.

    • Sam Sam November 14, 2013

      Note: typo in the 2nd paragraph on the 14th Amendnment- should state 4th Amendment.

  2. Ronado Ronado April 11, 2013

    This is a well argued article. By creating these laws you do not stop abortion. You simply push it underground and make it very unsafe.

  3. Sheri Sheri April 11, 2013

    Women need our support. Women choose abortion because there is no other choices for them. This is an individual choice and it should be respected.

    • Sam Sam October 20, 2013

      Agree with you wholeheartedly, Drew. To say not being able to terminate life reduces the ‘personhood’ of a woman is asinine- especially when such a statement ignores two major things: abortion is not a totally protected right (the last trimester is not); and the irony that killing an unborn baby attacks something even greater- them as a human being.

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