Narratives of Prenatal Personhood in Abortion Law

Alejandro Madrazo, “Narratives of Prenatal Personhood in Abortion Law,” chapter 15 in Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies, ed. Rebecca J. Cook, Joanna N. Erdman, and Bernard M. Dickens (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) pp. 327-346, 446n-450n. Ahora disponible en español.

The question of prenatal personhood has long been present in abortion law, but recent legislative initiatives and judicial decisions suggest that it will increasingly become a key battleground in abortion law.

In this penultimate chapter of  Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective,  Alejandro Madrazo examines the significance of  constitutional amendments and legal debates in Mexico and  elsewhere about prenatal personhood for women’s exercise of their reproductive rights.  His concerns lie not in the narrow legal issues of interpretation, but rather their role in shaping public debates over abortion.  Leaving the fundamental question of prenatal personhood unattended can have catastrophic consequences for women’s rights in general, and their sexual and reproductive rights in particular, in part by facilitating resort to criminal rather than constitutional law as the modality of reasoning.  Moreover, the protection of prenatal personhood is usually not taken self-critically by its proponents but is rather an argument for justifying restrictions on women’s sexual and reproductive rights and, more specifically, for trumping women’s right to choose.  Claims of prenatal personhood claims enable oversimplified narratives centered on the act of abortion rather than on the circumstances of women that give rise to unwanted pregnancies.  Accordingly, Madrazo asks, what are the consequences when prenatal life, in its different stages, is deemed a “person” for legal purposes?   And what are the consequences when it is denied that status?

Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies was first published in August 2014 by the University of Pennsylvania Press’s Studies in Human Rights Series.   Table of Contents and other information online. Ahora disponible en español.

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