WASHINGTON – That is a baby inside the womb. That is a person.
Pro-lifers are repositioning the abortion debate by appealing to the consciences of Americans through "personhood" jargon.
After nearly 40 years of fighting to overturn Roe v. Wade and counting more than 50 million abortion deaths, Christians and other pro-lifers are restrategizing and are confident they now have the abortion industry running.
"I've seen the abortion industry on its back foot," said Shaun Kenney, executive director of American Life League, at a Washington, D.C., conference Thursday. "They're afraid of personhood."
"Personhood Now!" is the new sign that tens of thousands of youths, adults, Protestants, Catholics and others are carrying Friday – the 37th anniversary of Roe v .Wade – during the annual March for Life up Capitol Hill.
American Life League, one of the oldest pro-life grassroots organizations, defines human personhood as the legal recognition of a human being's full status as a human person that applies to all human beings, irrespective of age, health, function, physical or mental dependency or method of reproduction, from the beginning of their biological development.
Simply, every single person deserves the full protection of U.S. laws.
Personhood language is nothing new. American Life League president Judie Brown recalled hearing the term some 30 years ago at her first March for Life.
But only recently the concept has picked up steam as personhood amendments were introduced in a number of states, and stirred more consciences as discussions were being provoked.
"Do you believe in human rights?" is the common personhood conversation starter.
"This is the conversation we've been wanting to have for a long time," said Kenney, as he urged students to take the message of personhood to the public square. "Ask 'why shouldn't we be on the side of human rights?'"
The concept resonates particularly strongly with African Americans who were stripped of their personhood more than a century ago in the Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court decision. Today, an entire group of individuals are still denied human personhood because of where they live (in the womb, petri dish or fallopian tubes).
For African Americans, ending abortion puts a period to the civil rights movement.
"Blacks understand personhood," said the Rev. Johnny Hunter who leads a prominent African American evangelical pro-life ministry. "We are in a position to literally fulfill the civil rights movement, bring it to total completion."
In a fiery address on Thursday, Hunter told pro-lifers that they can end abortion regardless of Roe v. Wade as history has taught.
"There was no Supreme Court decision that ... overturned Dred Scott. That is not what freed slaves," he noted. "Dred Scott never got overturned and look at me, I'm free."
Rather than focus solely on Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers are being urged to turn much of their efforts to state personhood amendments.
The personhood movement can succeed, said Hunter.
Thirty-two states are pursuing personhood amendments. Composing precise language in the ballot initiatives is critical, medical ethicist Dr. Dianne Irving cautioned on Thursday.
Pro-lifers need to be picky with their words to avoid legal loopholes, she said.
"If you use the wrong science [or] words, it not only leads to a misdefinition of who is a person, it also leads to malformed consciences," Irving told an audience of pro-life youths and adults, while noting that science is on their side. "We need to get the language straight so our consciences can be well formed."
Neither fertilization nor conception is defined as the "beginning of biological development." Rather, the development of a human being begins "the instant when the sperm and the ovum touch" through sexual reproduction, according to Personhood Colorado. And in the case of a cloned human being, his or her biological beginning is when the DNA in the cell/cells is deprogrammed or reprogrammed to the same state of differentiation as a human organism.
While science may explain when life begins, for Christians, the Bible couldn't be clearer on the question.
Reading from the book of Jeremiah, Hunter said, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
God recognizes a person and his or her purpose long before he or she is born, Hunter noted.
Conference attendee Savanna Buckner, 17, couldn't agree more with Thursday's speakers.
"Abortion is just sick," the Stafford, Va., student said. "It's against God's law and against natural law."