COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A bill that would acknowledge the personhood of an embryo has made its way to the Ohio Statehouse.
Introduced Monday by Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery), House Bill 704 would recognize the personhood and constitutional rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – “of all unborn human individuals” at the moment of conception, with no mention of exceptions for rape or incest.
The three-sentence-long Personhood Act, which comes on the heels of Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, states that nothing in the bill “shall be interpreted in any manner that would endanger the life of a mother.”
“When does life actually begin? When do we, when are we endowed with those unalienable rights?” Click said. “And I believe that’s at the moment of creation.”
Ohio currently has a six-week abortion ban in effect, prohibiting the procedure at the point fetal cardiac activity is detected. Two bills that would ban abortion entirely are pending in the Statehouse, which lawmakers could vote on as soon as they return to session in November.
While lawmakers have debated abortion-related topics for decades – like the point of viability to the detection of fetal cardiac activity – Click said his bill, which does not explicitly mention abortion, gets back to the basics.
“I think the beauty of the bill is actually in its brevity,” Click said. “The bill, obviously, it addresses and touches abortion, but it doesn’t talk about abortion, it doesn’t talk about consequences, it doesn’t talk about penalties – it doesn’t establish any of those things. Let’s just go back to this fundamental question: ‘When is a person a person?’”
The implications of Click’s bill – like whether assigning personhood to an embryo means it qualifies for other rights like citizenship or a Social Security number – are not entirely clear.
But fertility physician Dr. Akas Jain said defining personhood at the moment of conception would “greatly complicate” his work at the Westerville-based Reproductive Gynecology and Infertility Clinic, he said.
Couples dealing with fertility issues often seek out Jain for in-vitro fertilization, or IVF, treatment – a process where physicians try to preserve a woman’s eggs that would otherwise have been discarded through apoptosis, or natural cell death, Jain said. Once the eggs are fertilized and developed in a lab, they are transferred to the woman’s uterus. But he said not all of the embryos will survive the process, as some are not genetically normal.
“If you’re gonna call something at the moment of conception a person, well that means every patient’s embryos – could be three or four or 20 – are persons that just don’t survive,” he said.
Like miscarriages, Click said “there is a legitimate case to be made that IVF is ethical,” even if a bill like his establishing the personhood of an embryo is taken into account.
“Is it the intentional taking of a life? I don’t think so,” Click said.
Whether Click intends to criminalize procedures like IVF through HB 704, Jain said, doesn’t matter. Defining personhood at the moment of conception, a move Jain called “disturbing,” could open the door for future legislation or litigation by people who do intend to criminalize IVF.
About 2.1% of all babies born in the U.S. in 2019 were conceived through IVF, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At Jain’s practice alone, about 500 babies are born from fertility treatments each year, he said.
“That’s a lot of couples around Columbus that would not have been able to have kids,” he said.
Ohio Right to Life President Peter Range, who applauded Click’s Personhood Act, said abortion rights groups should be less focused on how IVF could be impacted, and instead ask themselves, “When does human life begin?”
“Unborn children have unique DNA that the world has never seen before,” Range said, “and that life deserves to be protected.”