Religious Right legal groups, led by the Alliance Defending Freedom, are pursuing an aggressive, strategic state-by-state plan to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to criminalize abortion. But that’s not moving quickly enough or far enough for the no-compromise “personhood” wing of the anti-choice movement. This week the anti-abortion-rights Personhood Alliance announced that the five men on the board of supervisors of Yadkin County North Carolina had unanimously passed a resolution “to designate Yadkin County as the nation’s first sanctuary county for pre-born children.”
The Alliance considers Roe v. Wade to be unjust and illegitimate and argues that its “Sanctuaries for Life” initiative to encourage local governments to defy the Supreme Court ruling “seeks to restore law and order by re-establishing and protecting the legal personhood of pre-born children at the local level.”
The Personhood Alliance website promotes the initiative saying, “Today, too many moral American communities kowtow to an atheistic, morally corrupt judiciary, while Congress gives away its power and the executive branch oversees a ballooning administrative state.”
The group uses a county-by-county map of the results of the 2016 presidential election to support its assertion that “the majority of America does not believe in the secularized, relativistic worldview of the modern Left.”
“What if these local communities rose up and prescribed limits on the tyrants who insist on devaluing and dehumanizing pre-born children?” the group asks on its website. “What if all those red towns and counties said, ‘No more! Not in our back yard!’”
According to the group’s website, the passage of a resolution is “the initial step to outlawing abortion in your community.” The second step is to “activate the community,” with an emphasis on “education and preparing the community and local authorities for the boldness of Step 3.”
Step 3 is “defy the unjust law.” In this phase, the community “interposes between the unjust aggressor and the innocent victim.”
The Personhood Alliance is an association of anti-abortion groups that came together in 2014, united in their impatience with the larger anti-choice movement, in spite of the movement’s dramatic success at restricting women’s access to legal abortion across the United States. In 2015, Right Wing Watch published a report on the “personhood” movement. Here’s how it summarized the activists who make up the alliance and the “no compromise” wing of the anti-choice movement:
In seeking mainstream approval for anti-choice politics, personhood advocates believe, groups like the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL) have adopted a secular tone and downplayed their Christian origins. In focusing on drawing attention to issues like late-term abortion, they may have won some support for the cause but have done little to end the procedures they targeted. In seeking incremental successes, personhood advocates argue, the movement has given up on making a moral argument for the humanity of fertilized eggs and fetuses and lost sight of its larger goal of eliminating legal abortion entirely.
But the greatest betrayal in the eyes of these personhood advocates is the willingness of major anti-choice groups to endorse legislation that includes exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. The personhood movement’s leaders contend that these political concessions are not only immoral and intellectually inconsistent, but also threaten to undermine the movement’s goals in the long term. In fact, the Personhood Alliance grew out of a feud between Georgia Right to Life leader Daniel Becker and NRLC centered around a rape exception inserted into a national 20-week abortion ban. Becker and his allies believe that they have a better plan, one that does not require compromise.
The RWW report noted that in attendance at the Alliance’s founding conference was Ben DuPré, chief of staff to Alabama’s then-Chief Justice Roy Moore. Moore and his successor, current Chief Justice Tom Parker, had already outlined their own strategy for eliminating legal protections for abortions in the United States: building a body of laws that define fertilized zygotes and fetuses as citizens with full rights under the law. Alabama is now well on its way, with Gov. Kay Ivey having signed into law in May a ban on abortion that classified abortion as a felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison for doctors who perform the procedure. In keeping with the goals of the personhood movement, the Alabama law includes no exception for victims of rape or incest. The law has been challenged in federal court by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.