HHS Nominee Tom Price Backed Extreme Anti-Choice ‘Personhood’ Bills

Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican whom President-elect Donald Trump intends to nominate as secretary of health and human services, cosponsored at least two bills in Congress that aimed to destroy Roe v. Wade and could have even endangered some forms of legal birth control by declaring zygotes, embryos and fetuses to be legal persons under the law.

In 2005 and 2007, Price cosponsored California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter’s Right to Life Act, which attempted to extend the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection to zygotes by legally defining human life as beginning at the “moment of fertilization.” In practice, if such a law were to survive court challenges, it would make all abortion the legal equivalent of murder and could even threaten to criminalize some forms of birth control. (Vice President-elect Mike Pence also cosponsored both measures.)

Hunter acknowledged that his “personhood” bill was meant as an end-run around Roe v. Wade. Personhood advocates believe that there is a loophole in Roe that would allow Congress to dismantle the abortion-rights decision simply by passing a law declaring the “unborn” to be legal persons. Some prominent anti-abortion attorneys have rebutted this theory, arguing that the personhood strategy could actually backfire on the movement.

The risk to legal birth control posed by such “personhood” measures is that some reproductive rights opponents argue that certain contraceptive methods prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, thus resulting in what they say is an abortion (or, under a personhood regime, a murder). Some anti-choice groups go so far as to argue that the pill can cause an abortion.

The issue in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case was the contention by the craft-store chain that a few methods of birth control covered by the Department of Health and Human Service’s contraception mandate, namely emergency contraception and a couple of IUDs, could actually cause abortion. The company claimed that providing this coverage to employees violated its religious liberty. The broader conservative movement, in its effort to oppose the Affordable Care Act and redefine religious liberty, largely got behind this claim. In a press release after the Obama administration announced a compromise exempting religiously affiliated groups from paying for insurance for contraceptives to which they have religious objections, Price released a statement claiming that the administration was forcing employers to provide “abortion services” in their health coverage plans.

A few days later, Price told ThinkProgress that he didn’t know of “one woman” who wouldn’t be able to afford contraception without the HHS mandate.