The XX Factor

The Couple Behind Personhood

Personhood march.
Pro-life activists participate in the annual “March for Life” event January 2009 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Newsweek just published a profile by Abigail Pesta of Keith and Jennifer Mason, the couple behind the “personhood” movement to define fertilized eggs as legal persons, not just so they can give unlimited amounts of anonymous money to super PACs, but so that women who are pregnant—or could be in the near future—have their rights severely curtailed. I’m sure the Masons felt that by talking with the interviewer, they would come across as a couple of cool cats who just happen to love embryos, but the actual result is that they come off as a creepy wannabe sex cops. Particularly amusing is the confession that they married after only dating for five months (they met oh-so-romantically while standing in front of an abortion clinic to gawk at and shame the women going in) because, to quote Keith, “Purity was very important to us.” Which is fundie-ese for saying their horniness caused them to make a rash decision. This hasn’t increased their sympathy in the slightest for women whose rash decisions made in horny moments landed them in an abortion clinic. If the Masons have to live with their sex-deluded decisions, I guess, so should everyone else.

The primary focus of the personhood movement is to ban abortion, but it’s also expected to have the effect of banning women from doing anything that could, in theory, damage a fertilized egg. Since we can’t know if a woman has a fertilized egg in her until it implants, personhood laws could be used to restrict the access of fertile women, whether pregnant or not, to many drugs (though the main one anti-choicers have their eye on is the birth control pill), to certain jobs, and certainly to fertility treatments like IVF that work by creating more embryos than can successfully survive the process. It would also mean that miscarriages would have to be treated like the deaths of actual people, which in turn would likely mean women who have miscarriages and stillbirths would be subject to criminal investigations to see if they “abused” their “children.”

One thing that I can say is that unlike many people waging the war against abortion and effective contraception, the Masons don’t seem like hypocrites. They did shun premarital sex, even at the expense of basic common sense, and they seem to be living their values by having one baby after another. But there’s a strong political price to be paid for avoiding hypocrisy. By living their values, they’re giving everyone else a thorough eyeball of the sexual deprivation and excessive child-bearing they have in mind for everyone else by pushing laws aimed at punishing nonprocreative sexual behavior. In fact, Mason appears to be aware of the importance of concealing how far their values fall out of the mainstream in order to push his agenda, which is why I suspect he obfuscates every time a mainstream journalist asks him about his attitudes about contraception. It’s much easier to sell the anti-choice agenda if you can distract from the vision of sexual deprivation and excessive child-bearing behind the push to restrict abortion and contraception access.