People in need of protection

That is where the passion and commitment of human rights defenders lies. They safeguard people of certain races or ethnicities, women, sexual minorities—all of whom have faced violations of their rights in one form or another.

The anti-choice movement is aggressive and relentless in its efforts across the globe to strip women of their reproductive rights and, therefore, their human rights. With increasing frequency, extremists are posing a significant challenge to human rights defenders by trying, and in some cases succeeding, to define a fertilized egg as a person, with the same rights as the woman who carries it.

So on International Human Rights Day, we choose to recognize the risk that the personhood movement presents and provide defenders with the resources to help stop it.

Personhood represents perhaps the most extreme attempt to undercut and eliminate reproductive rights. More and more, human rights defenders have had to train their sights on beating back these overarching attacks before they violate the rights of women and, in many cases, threaten their lives and health.

The attacks are coming from every corner of the globe.

  • In 1998, one law defining fertilized eggs as persons turned El Salvador's hospitals into courtrooms of blind persecution. Today, women suspected of ending a pregnancy often are presumed guilty, given little in the way of due process, and wind up in jail for upwards of 30 years.
  • Poland has vague laws on abortion, and the Catholic Church hierarchy exerts great influence over how they are interpreted. A culture of intolerance persists that consistently leads to a woman's rights being superseded by that of a fetus. Women are routinely denied abortions even when they are legally entitled to one, earning Poland multiple condemnations from human rights bodies.
  • In the United States, despite resounding defeats on several states' ballots and a harsh rebuke by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, extremists persist in trying to impose these types of laws on women and their families.

The consequences of personhood could not be clearer: Women die when the rights of a fertilized egg take precedence over their life and health.

The Center hopes its new resources, coupled with the tireless efforts of human rights defenders worldwide, will help thwart future personhood efforts and ensure that laws prioritize women's reproductive rights.


Read more about the personhood movement in the Center's new resource >

Learn more about human rights defenders and how they are protected by international law >