We recently published a short article expressing some critiques of the Personhood strategy. Though we did not heavily promote that article it has created considerable discussion within the anti-abortion world. This article is a further elaboration upon those themes. We have written these critiques as men who have labored for years within the Personhood movement and who are grateful for the work that has been accomplished through it. Our hope is to simply explain why we no longer advocate for the Personhood strategy, and instead call for abolition through interposition. We hope it will provoke thought, stimulate an edifying dialogue and encourage our brethren to consider a more effective strategy.
THE HEART OF OUR CRITIQUE OF THE PERSONHOOD STRATEGY
Our primary assertion is that the Federal courts in our nation will not overturn Roe v. Wade, nor recognize any notion of Personhood rights for the preborn. The courts are a major part of the problem; they have long since overstepped their lawful and Constitutional jurisdiction and must simply be defied. The false idea of judicial supremacy has been used to exalt our judiciary into a ruling oligarchy. We thus do not seek to overturn Roe, nor to see the protection of the preborn adjudicated in the courts. Rather we call for defiance of Roe and SCOTUS by our lesser magistrates.
From its inception, Personhood leaders have argued that Justice Blackmun, in the Roe decision, has given us the key to overturning Roe, namely, personhood. Consequently the movement has sought to end abortion by working within the Roe paradigm by seeking to overturn the decision with a direct challenge to the Supreme Court or by way of a Federal Constitutional Amendment.
For example, Dan Becker, President of the national organization Personhood Alliance, wrote in 2007 regarding the “Paramount Right to Life Amendment” in Georgia,
“Two important pro-life objectives would be effected by this amendment to our state constitution. It establishes and affirms in principle that Georgia is a ‘pro-life’ state that seeks to protect all human life from fertilization as a matter of constitutional law; and it provides a direct challenge to the central holding of Roe v. Wade… Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that, ‘(If the) suggestion of personhood [of the preborn] is established, the [abortion rights] case, of course, collapses.”
Becker adopted this legal strategy for overturning Roe from the work of the highly esteemed Notre Dame professor Charles Rice and the legal minds at the Thomas More Law Center. TMLC President and Chief Counsel Richard Thompson stated, regarding the Georgia amendment, “It is important to bear in mind that the proposal establishes a constitutional principle; it does not enact criminal or civil legislation…. Without a direct challenge to Roe, any proposal to protect innocent human life from abortion is utterly meaningless.”
Gualberto Garcia Jones, current Public Policy Director of the Personhood Alliance, echoed this sentiment in an interview with World Net Daily in 2009, stating, “We’re trying to end abortion right now…All of our laws that we’re promoting are direct challenges to Roe v. Wade. If we can get a challenge up to the Supreme Court, then that’s the ideal thing. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Steve Deace, popular radio host, and head of Personhood Iowa, stated this matter plainly in an article written for Georgia Right to Life in 2015, “If my fellow Pro-Lifers don’t believe ‘personhood’ is the right strategy to ultimately ending child killing in America, then what is theirs?…if the strategy is we just wait for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, don’t we need an offensive initiative to force that question before the court?”
It should be noted that this was a significant step forward from the strategies being proffered from the majority of pro-life organizations around the country at the time. Overturning Roe in conjunction with a state amendment affirming the personhood of preborn human beings was a commendable goal. Yet, it has become abundantly clear to us that the courts are hopelessly stacked against us. They have been overstepping their bounds and acting lawlessly for far too long. Our system of checks and balances has broken down and can only be restored by defiance of unlawful judicial action by the other branches of government and by state and local officials. This is what should have happened in 1973.
Every major Personhood state organization has set forth views on their websites similar to those of Dan Becker and the Thomas More Law Center. Rare within the movement have been any written materials asserting that Roe must be defied and that state officials must be educated as to their moral and legal duty to end abortion within their jurisdiction. It is high time we assert and act upon the truth that Roe is an unlawful decree with no legal merit. We are calling for this change of strategy, namely, abolition through interposition.
The largest and most influential Personhood group in the country, Personhood USA, founded by Cal Zastrow and Keith Mason, has accomplished much for the cause of Christ and the preborn since its inception in 2008. Every one of us writing has invested a great deal of time and energy alongside these brothers. Yet, it is without question we were operating within the Roe paradigm, working toward an eventual challenge to Roe and /or eventual Federal Personhood Amendment. We were not calling for defiance of the court by our state officials.
As further evidence of this, here is video which was published by Personhood USA in 2011 and was posted at many state Personhood affiliate sites, including Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin. All of the above affiliates that still have a functional website still have this video posted. It affirms the Personhood strategy functioning within the Roe paradigm. It is one minute and 19 seconds long. https://youtu.be/81NrWq3p5Ag
Personhood USA also published the following video in 2011, contracting film producer Molotov Mitchell. It spread across the country at that time and just two years ago was repackaged and promoted by Georgia Right to Life. It again illustrates how the Personhood strategy was functioning within the Roe paradigm. It is 3-minutes long. https://youtu.be/VjbLe02xZY0
One can find dozens of quotes from just a short perusal of the internet from Personhood websites and leaders citing the exact same thing as these two videos promote. (For more thorough documentation of this claim see our document here.)
Certain Personhood leaders have recently claimed that Personhood was always about defying Roe, interposition of the lesser magistrates, and exposing judicial supremacy. This is simply not true. Again, a simple perusal of Personhood websites shows an almost complete absence of these topics.
Dan Becker published a book in 2011 entitled, “Personhood,” considered by many to be a definitive work on Personhood strategy. Defying Roe, interposition of the lesser magistrates and exposing the fiction of judicial supremacy are not propagated in the book.
There certainly were some within Personhood talking about interposition of the magistrates and defying Roe through Personhood – for example Cal Zastrow and Patrick Johnston – as well as most of us. But these matters were privately spoken of and not part of the public Personhood stratagem – the vast majority of those in Personhood did not espouse such things at all and the writings found at Personhood websites make that abundantly clear.
This began the disillusionment with Personhood as a strategy for those of us who had been openly advocating defiance of Roe, interposition of the lesser magistrates, and defiance of the judiciary, if a state did declare personhood for the preborn.
We refuse to operate any longer within that paradigm. Why spend countless hours petitioning and organizing merely to watch while another Federal judge strikes us down? We will not pander to a tyrannical court nor will we continue to devise our strategies based upon what may persuade this tyrannical court. We have stepped out of the Roe paradigm, as have many others who worked hard for personhood in the past.
THE IMPACT OF PERSONHOOD WHEN PASSED
We were also told by nearly all Personhood leaders that passing the Personhood Amendment would not stop abortion in the state. Here in Wisconsin, the Personhood website states:
“It [the Personhood Amendment] seeks only to bring into the Wisconsin constitution a true definition of human life as endorsed by Wisconsin citizens speaking through the amendment process. We recognize that its protections cannot be fully effective as long as Roe remains law, but we believe a proper definition of personhood should be in place should Wisconsin be freed from the effects of that noxious decision.”
Numerous Personhood sites and leaders state this explicitly and even the prolific legal firm Liberty Counsel, addressing the Mississippi Personhood Amendment, concurred, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the Amendment does nothing more than define the word ‘person.’ it does not criminalize abortion or otherwise enact law.”
Steve Lefemine, leader of Personhood South Carolina, perhaps the oldest Personhood group in the country with legislative initiatives going back to 1998, acknowledged in a recent article, “In my opinion, we will need to pass Personhood legislation, and then we will very likely need interposition of Lesser Magistrates to enforce it once the law is codified and on the books if the passage of Personhood legislation occurs first at the State level.”
INTERPOSITION, CURRENT BILLS OF ABOLITION, AND JUSTICE FOR THE PREBORN
But what if a Personhood Amendment were passed in conjunction with Lesser Magistrates willing to enforce it and defy the judiciary? The trouble here is that due to so many murky legal statutes regarding abortion in every state and the mountains of bad incremental legislation which have been codified into law affirming the legitimacy of killing the preborn by pro-life legislatures, it is not evident that abortion would immediately be criminalized as murder anywhere.
Abortion is murder. If the preborn are to receive justice and the killing is to be stopped we need laws that treat abortion as murder. Most states do not have these laws and Personhood recognition would in most instances not change this reality.
For example, even in our state of Wisconsin, where we actually have an existing statute on the books prohibiting abortion, pro-life groups actually removed any penalty for the mother, and the crime for the doctor is minimal. This was a massive flaw exposed in the “pro-life” state of Texas by the Roe case, as the penalty for abortion was merely a misdemeanor for the abortionist and no penalty for the woman. Our pro-life legislatures have not been treating abortion as murder, to rectify this we need more than mere personhood measures affirming the status of the preborn, we need clear sanctions calling abortion murder. A bill of abolition would do all this in one fell swoop.
Understand, after spending years trying to get a state Personhood amendment, one would still have to begin the process to prohibit abortion and codify the laws about it. The current bills of abolition – recently introduced in Oklahoma, Texas, and several other states – do so immediately and directly without years of delay. They are open and honest and instruct the magistrates and the people in the important truths of abolition and interposition, and confront the tyrant, namely, the federal judiciary. Of course, other avenues of interposition could be pursued. Through the executive branch for example – a governor and attorney general – or at the county or local level.
In short, affirming that preborn babies are persons must be accompanied by a corresponding sanction declaring that abortion, in all of its grotesque forms, is murder. Fortunately there are numerous states where courageous legislators have put forward measures calling abortion murder and demanding an end to the killing. More and more we are seeing anti-abortion groups around the country adopting the language of abolitionism and the political strategy of abolition through interposition. We would encourage our brethren to begin speaking out in support of these important measures.
As has been stated, we have spent years helping with Personhood efforts and we do not regret any of it. Personhood introduced thousands to the humanity of the preborn child and provided countless opportunities to point men to Christ – through our words and the literature we distributed. Personhood efforts were often principled and gospel centered. Personhood also exposed many pro-life/pro-family groups and the GOP for their treachery toward the preborn. Many saw just how deeply entrenched together the pro-life movement and the GOP were to make sure that the status quo was maintained and the babies continued to be murdered.
Yet, we must be honest. State Personhood Amendments declaring the personhood of the preborn child will not stop their slaughter any more than the state Marriage Amendments declaring marriage to be between a man and a woman stopped the perversion of marriage in our nation.
Here in Wisconsin our state statutes already declare that the “unborn child means a human being from the time of conception” and we have a statute prohibiting abortion, yet they still murder babies here, despite our having pro-life majorities in our legislature and a pro-life Governor.
That is why we push for immediate and total abolition through interposition. We instruct the people and the magistrates in these important matters. We accept nothing less from the magistrates. People need to understand that Roe is not the law of the land. It is an unjust, immoral and unconstitutional court opinion. The federal judiciary simply must be defied. The Supreme Court must be defied.
By Jason Storms, Matthew Trewhella, Jonathan Sutherland, and Joe Mucciolo.
Jason Storms has been involved in Personhood efforts beginning in Colorado in 2008 and has brought ministry teams to numerous states advancing Personhood efforts since that time. In 2014, Jason was asked to lead the organization Personhood USA, the pioneer of the Personhood movement over the last decade.
Matthew Trewhella is the founder of Missionaries to the Preborn and the author of the seminal book The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates. He worked with Personhood efforts from 2005 to 2014 in nine states by putting together teams of 60-80 people who would spend two weeks on the road at a time holding photos of the preborn and passing out literature by the tens of thousands.
Jonathan Sutherland spent nearly seven years working for the advancement of the Personhood movement. He volunteered for Colorado’s 2008 Personhood effort and worked as a full time employee of Personhood USA from 2009-2015. He left the organization some time after moving from a Personhood Pro-Life position to an Abolitionist position.
Joe Mucciolo and his family were involved in the Personhood movement from 2010 to 2015 in at least five different states, volunteering their time gathering signatures and ministering at death camps and university campuses. Joe has been the developer and administrator of Personhood websites and Facebook pages during much of this time.
ADDENDUM ON PERSONHOOD, ABOLITION, AND AHA –
First Some Important Distinctions:
Not all personhood people or personhood bills are the same. This was not a monolithic movement. Likewise not all AHA folks are the same in attitude nor on many points of strategy and practice.
There have been bad eggs in the AHA crowd, just as there were bad eggs in the Personhood crowd.
Let us be cautious to not overgeneralize and to avoid personal attacks.
Toward the Same Goal:
Personhood, as a Gospel-centered and non-incremental movement, helped pave the way toward the modern abolitionist movement and interposition. Similarly, the rescue movement helped pave the way for Personhood to emerge and to be a catalyst for change in the discussion on abortion in our nation.
There have been legitimate (and also some not so legitimate) debates, disagreements and discussions over several points of strategy and tactics between “personhood folks” and “abolitionist” or “AHA folks”. These dialogues have a place and serve a purpose, if done in the right spirit.
Meanwhile, changing hearts and minds is paramount in our present moment of history. It seems to me that we are all in agreement in our ultimate goals, whether advancing amendments, bills or petition drives, to create educational opportunities, social tension, awakening Christians and applying political pressure regarding the value and dignity of the preborn and the gross present injustice of their legalized murder.
It should be obvious that infighting, personal attacks, and misrepresentations are counterproductive to the aims of both movements, movements which have tremendous overlap in terms of personnel, goals and rhetoric.
My personal decision to move away from personhood and begin working toward abolition and interposition is largely based on two thoughts; one, I have no interest in a personhood movement that will endorse 20 week bans so long as they do not have “exceptions”, or that is merely trying to create a challenge to Roe in the Federal Courts; and two, the reality that the personhood movement has become utterly stagnant in many ways. The best personhood folks I know are not presently advancing any sort of significant effort at the state level. The two largest groups, one of which I was asked to lead, have largely become ineffectual. The burgeoning movement has lost steam, and has ground to a halt. With perhaps a handful of exceptions, there is no significant work being done anywhere that I am aware of.
A fresh face and fresh wave of energy is needed. As is often the case this requires new wineskins. Abolitionism, despite the immature postures and combativeness that have manifested at times particularly in the earlier days of the movement, has sparked a fresh wave of principled energy and zeal that has manifested in legislative efforts in numerous states and growing media attention as well as a throng of new voices and ground troops being enlisted into this battle. Abolitionists have also brought much needed moral clarity and consistency to our rhetoric and action.
My plea is for the old guard of rescuers and personhood people to join hands with abolitionists in demanding the complete and immediate abolition of abortion and the immediate interposition of our state officials toward this end. Our united voices and efforts can effect change. Divided and discordant, we dilute our power and influence, ensuring the continued slaughter of millions of image bearers in the womb.
This is not a call to a false peace or a compromised union, but rather a plea for a humble and serious effort to examine the essential principles that guide each of us, so that a dialogue of iron sharpening (with the utmost humility, good will, and grace) can ensue to refine each of us in our labors to end child sacrifice.
The babies who are being murdered deserve nothing less than this effort – as does our God and King, who humbled Himself, took upon himself the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death.
Self-righteousness grieves God’s Spirit and impedes the work of revival and reform just as much as compromise and bad strategy. Let’s move forward with an eye toward unity and advancing the Kingdom, making sure that we are not idolizing our reputations, our “movements,” our symbols and logos, or our fragile egos and let’s get ourselves moving forward in ending the slaughter of these little ones.