Why you need to know about HR 586, the 'personhood' bill on abortion

People holding anti-abortion signs

John Pisciotta/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The bill would establish that human life begins at fertilization.

House Republicans have introduced legislation that would outlaw abortion and emergency contraception everywhere in the United States, and pose a threat to birth control pills and fertility treatments. 

The “personhood” bill would declare that the right to life begins at fertilization. Known as HR 586, the bill would also declare that zygotes and embryos are allowed the same “right to life” as human beings. Pro-life Republicans in the House and Senate have tried—and failed—to get identical bills signed into law many times, many times.  

But under President Donald Trump—who has declared that he will be a pro-life president—the likelihood of the personhood bill being enacted into law is greater than ever. 

In addition to the introduction of the personhood bill, the House passed a bill this week that would ban federal funding of abortions. Trump also reinstated the Mexico City policy banning federal funding of abortion and other reproductive health services overseas earlier this week. 

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), the personhood bill's author, has likened abortion to eugenics. In his book, It’s Now or Never: A Call to Reclaim America, Hice says America legalizing abortion was an even worse atrocity than the Holocaust:  

“How many times have we denounced the murderous acts of people like Hitler? Most certainly, his actions and similar ones by other political leaders should be vehemently condemned! Yet, we so easily overlook the genocide that has been committed within our own country. Our murderous dealings are much worse than Hitler’s six million Jews or Mussolini’s three hundred thousand. The genocide in America is inexcusable! It is worse than genocide. We are guilty of eugenics!"

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the sponsor of the Senate personhood bill, S. 231, as he has been in prior sessions of Congress. Paul is such a staunch advocate of the law that he even tried to attach the personhood bill to legislation on flood insurance

What exactly does the personhood bill do? Essentially, the bill would ban abortion and grant the unborn, including zygotes and embryos, all the legal protections of the Fourteenth Amendment, beginning at “the moment of fertilization.” 

Critics of the personhood bill have warned that Plan B, or the morning-after pill, as well as IUDs could be outlawed under the bill. Others say the bill's vague language could even apply to hormonal birth control. 

As a factsheet by NARAL Pro-Choice America explains it:

‘Personhood’ measures would ban most common forms of birth control. Any form of contraceptive that prevents implantation, rather than or in addition to fertilization, would be banned. This would have an enormous impact on the 99 percent of American women who use birth control. 

HR 586 was introduced on Jan 17., a few days before Trump's inauguration. The following week, Sen. Paul introduced the Senate's companion legislation. Dates have not been scheduled yet for either the Senate or House Judiciary Committee to vote on the bills.

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