In a sermon delivered last weekend, the pastor of an Arkansas mega-church denounced the very existence of women’s reproductive rights, telling his congregation that a woman does not have “the right over her own body” because it actually “belongs to God”.
During Sunday services at Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas (which also happens to be the home church of the Duggar family), pastor Jeff Crawford addressed the supposed dangers of a concept he called “theological dualism,” or “the idea that you can separate what goes on with our bodies from what goes on with our soul or spirit.”
In a video of the sermon posted by Raw Story, Crawford begins by linking this idea to the “sin of pornography,” and then immediately pivots to the topic of abortion. According to him, the teachings of the Bible explicitly contradict the idea that women should have any control over their own bodies or medical decisions. Women who believe that they have ownership of their own bodies are simply mistaken, Crawford explains.
“This idea that you hear about in the abortion debate that it’s a woman’s right to choose and she has the right over her own body, no, that’s not true,” he said.
“[Y]our body [is] a temple to the Holy Spirit,” Crawford told his listeners, “and what that means is that your arms and your legs and your head and your eyes … it all belongs to God.”
As offensive and outlandish as Crawford’s sermon may be, his ideas are actually in line with many mainstream conservative politicians, including most of the 2016 GOP presidential candidates, who believe that developing fetuses at any stage of pregnancy should be given full rights as persons and citizens, with no regard for the personhood of the pregnant woman.
The so-called “personhood movement” — embraced by Republican presidential hopefuls including Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz (along with newly-elected Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) — seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade by passing legislation that would define “personhood” as starting at the moment of fertilization, thereby granting fetuses, embryos and fertilized eggs full constitutional rights independent of the pregnant woman.
The consequences of personhood legislation are extreme, even by anti-choice standards: if fetuses become legal persons, women who terminate their pregnancies could be charged with murder, common and effective forms of birth control like IUD’s would be outlawed, and abortion would be criminalized without exception.
The precedent has already been set in other countries. Wherever there has been a push for fetal rights, women have suffered disastrously. And, as Lynne Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin from National Advocates for Pregnant Women point out in this 2014 New York Times article, abortion is only a fraction of the story. In fact, fetal personhood has the potential to negatively impact all pregnant women, whether they seek an abortion or not — and we don’t have to look far to find examples.
‘Our body is the very fabric of our personhood. If we have no control over our body we have no control over our person’
Thanks to the push for fetal personhood laws in the U.S., there are already hundreds of cases across the country in which women have been arrested, jailed or otherwise stripped of their basic rights as a result of being pregnant. Personhood is the legal concept behind the forced detention of pregnant women suspected of using drugs and the use of so-called fetal homicide laws to incarcerate women who experience miscarriages and stillbirths. According to research compiled by National Advocates for Pregnant Women, between 1973 and 2005, there were 413 documented cases in which a woman’s pregnancy was a necessary factor in criminal charges brought against her by the state. An additional 200 cases have been documented since 2005, and personhood — fetal rights — ground the charges in every one.
Paltrow and Flavin described some of those cases in the Times article:
Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.
In Iowa, a pregnant woman who fell down a flight of stairs was reported to the police after seeking help at a hospital. She was arrested for “attempted fetal homicide.
In Utah, a woman gave birth to twins; one was stillborn. Health care providers believed that the stillbirth was the result of the woman’s decision to delay having a cesarean. She was arrested on charges of fetal homicide.
In Louisiana, a woman who went to the hospital for unexplained vaginal bleeding was locked up for over a year on charges of second-degree murder before medical records revealed she had suffered a miscarriage at 11 to 15 weeks of pregnancy.
These are severe violations of basic human rights. Far from protecting fetuses, personhood laws not only endanger women’s lives, but actually pit the rights of the unborn against those of the pregnant woman, resulting in the criminalization of any pregnancy that, for whatever reason, does not end with the birth of a healthy baby.
“[W]hen the state is regarded as protector of fetuses,” Paltrow and Flavin warned, “then the rights of the woman carrying them will suffer.”
Catholic theologian and scholar Dr. Marjorie Reiley Maguire, Ph.D., issued a strikingly similar warning nearly three decades ago, when the concept of fetal personhood was first introduced to the national abortion debate:
The law of our land has an obligation first and foremost to the woman who is already a citizen and it cannot speak of any obligation, I believe, to the fetus, even if the fetus is [considered] a person while the fetus is in the woman’s body, because if the law is to protect fetal life it has to transgress the rights of the woman to self-determination.
Our body is the very fabric of our personhood. If we have no control over our body we have no control over our person. We have no self-determination. And the law, I think, has a primary obligation to help each of its citizens to be able to determine themselves. So if the law can violate a woman’s body, l believe it violates its most basic obligation to her. And this is true even if the fetus is considered a person.