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Feminist News


February-11-10

Personhood at Issue in NH Bill

The New Hampshire state House postponed a vote yesterday on a bill that treats a fetus as a person for the purposes of homicide. A vote is now expected next week. The bill would add "unborn child" to "the definition of 'another' for the purpose of first and second degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide" under state law.

The bill does provide an exception for abortion and states that the homicide provision would not "apply to any act committed by the mother of the unborn child, to any medical procedure including abortion, performed by a physician or other licensed medical professional at the request of the pregnant woman or her legal guardian, or to the lawful dispensation or administration of lawfully prescribed medication." The bill continues and defines "abortion" as "the act of using or prescribing any instrument, medicine, drug, or any other substance, device, or means with the intent to terminate the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a woman with knowledge that the termination by those means will, with reasonable likelihood, cause the death of the unborn child."

Despite the abortion exception, opponents of the legislation claim that the bill is an attempt to define a fetus as a person in a statute. Abortion opponents have pushed so-called "personhood initiatives" in several states. These measures declare that a fertilized egg is a "person" who enjoys "inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of the law." The laws would threaten not only abortion itself, but IUDs, emergency contraception, in vitro fertilization clinics, and stem cell research. Currently, petition drives and legal cases for so-called "personhood initiatives" are underway in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, and Nevada.

Supporters of the bill argue that the bill is unrelated to abortion and is in response to a 2006 case in which the state Supreme Court ultimately threw out the conviction of a driver who hit a cab, resulting in the stillbirth of the cab driver's baby, who was briefly kept alive on life support, according to the Associated Press. The driver also killed a passenger in the cab. The conviction in the stillbirth of the child was thrown out because New Hampshire state law does not define a fetus a person unless it shows signs of life.

Media Resources: New Hampshire HB 1644; Associated Press 2/10/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 2/5/10