The Center for Reproductive Rights uses the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill. Reproductive freedom lies at the heart of the promise of human dignity, self-determination and equality embodied in both the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Center works toward the time when that promise is enshrined in law in the United States and throughout the world. We envision a world where every woman is free to decide whether and when to have children; where every woman has access to the best reproductive healthcare available; where every woman can exercise her choices without coercion or discrimination. More simply put, we envision a world where every woman participates with full dignity as an equal member of society.
The Center has effectively used litigation, policy and human rights advocacy strategies to thwart efforts by abortion opponents in the U.S. to change the legal definition of personhood to include fertilized eggs, embryos, or fetuses. At its core, the so-called “personhood” movement seeks to establish that fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses should be treated as full persons under the law, with rights equal to, and in some cases superior to, the rights of women.
In April 2012, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a proposed ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to recognize a fertilized egg as a person was "clearly unconstitutional." The ballot initiative held the potential to not only ban abortion under all circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest or when a woman’s life is in danger, but also many forms of contraception and assisted reproductive technologies such as in-vitro fertilization. The Center was lead counsel in that case, and brought the challenge on behalf of Oklahoma physicians and individual women who would have been affected by the amendment. This victory followed another successful effort in Mississippi in 2011, when voters rejected an extreme and dangerous “personhood” measure which would have amended the state’s constitution to define a fertilized egg as a legal person. The Center provided support to local activists in Mississippi to defeat that measure.
In December 2012, the Center will release a toolkit for state advocates and legislators with legal analysis showing how recognition of prenatal personhood violates both U.S. constitutional law and international human rights law. Drawing upon examples in other countries where personhood has been enacted into national law, the toolkit shows how the impact of these laws reaches far beyond abortion access to include: denial of life-saving medical care for pregnant women, denial of reproductive health services including contraception and fertility treatment, and criminal prosecution of pregnant women.