The Chicago Family Law Blog

Naperville Fertility Clinic Raises Debate Over "Personhood" Laws

Many Chicago-area residents are up in arms about a proposed Naperville fertility clinic. In vitro fertilization, a process that often involves the destruction of excess embryos, has its fair share of critics, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The debate centers on “personhood,” or the point at which an embryo or fetus is considered a person and is, in turn, protected by constitutional rights. While proponents of IVF argue that an embryo is not a person, opponents of the practice are pushing for state laws that would codify the personhood of even embryos.

Personhood laws have been proposed in 33 states, though none of the bills have passed into law. The laws would grant legal rights to embryos, placing the point at which personhood arises at a much earlier stage than the Supreme Court has alluded to in the past.

The debate over personhood first came before the Supreme Court in the abortion case, Roe v. Wade. The Court held that a woman’s decision to have an abortion was protected by her 14th Amendment right to privacy. Although it declined to define the exact point at which personhood arises, it banned abortions beyond the point of “fetal viability,” or the point at which the fetus could likely survive outside the uterus, except in certain situations where the mother’s health was at stake.

In 2007, the Court took another step in delineating the point at which personhood arises, when it upheld a federal ban on “partial-birth” abortions in Gonzalez v. Carhart. Partial-birth abortions often occurred beyond the point of viability and involved partially delivering a fetus before terminating it.

Most of the proposed personhood laws would grant embryos constitutional rights well before the point of fetal viability. If any state passes such a law, it’s likely that the matter will be brought before the Supreme Court. While plans for the Naperville fertility clinic are now up in the air, the debate over personhood is going strong.

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