Personhood Measure: What's it mean?

For your informationAttention: Editors, News Directors and Reporters

Richmond, Virginia Editorial Monday, February 20, 2012

Personhood Measure: What's it mean?

Any attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade would quickly collapse unless the courts, including the Supreme Court, are willing.

There is — to put it mildly — a slight difference of opinion about the scope of HB1, the personhood amendment sponsored by Del. Bob Marshall. Abortion-rights advocates call it nothing less than an attempt to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. Republican supporters of the measure say all it does is permit civil lawsuits against individuals who harm a fetus either through negligence or by assaulting the mother.

Who is right?

The bill does stipulate that life begins at conception and confers on unborn children "at every stage of development all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this Commonwealth." That language may create, to use a cliché popular in Capitol Square, a camel's nose under the tent.But — and this is a big but — the rest of that sentence reads: "… subject only to the Constitution of the United States and decisional interpretations thereof by the United States Supreme Court and specific provisions to the contrary in the statutes and constitution of this Commonwealth."

In other words: Nothing in the bill supersedes any existing law.

Granted, if the personhood measure becomes law a rogue commonwealth's attorney might try to use it as a lever to overturn the entire edifice of abortion rights, including Roe v. Wade . But any such attempt would quickly collapse unless the courts themselves, including the Supreme Court, are willing to overturn Roe v. Wade.

And if that is the case, then HB1 is the last thing abortion-rights advocates need worry about.

Delegate Bob Marshall's contact information:

Mobile telephone – (703) 853-4213

Capitol telephone – (804) 698-1013 (during General Assembly sessions)