While most eyes this week were on the carnage in Las Vegas, the catastrophe in Puerto Rico, or the dangerous provocations towards Pyongyang and Tehran, the Trump administration was hard at work deconstructing the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. While that bulwark of American civil rights promises “due process of law” and “equal protection of the laws” to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” Donald Trump has declared that some persons are more equal than others.
For starters, two years after Justice Kennedy ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the constitutionally-protected right to marry extends to LGBTQ Americans, Attorney General Jeff Sessions began turning back the clock at the Justice Department. DOJ’s “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty” signaled that the faith-based sensitivities of some religious people should literally trump the marriage rights, workplace protections, and other 14th Amendment guarantees for gay and lesbian Americans. By signing an executive order allowing any business to deny contraceptive coverage to its female employees, Donald Trump codified that when it comes to health care, women are left out of the 14th’s American freedoms, too.
But this week, Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services proposed extending the 14th Amendment to a new group. And as Dr. Jen Gunter pointed out, these would-be beneficiaries aren’t persons at all.
In the draft of its “Strategic Plan, FY2018 – FY2022” now under review, HHS has unilaterally adopted what might be called the “Fetal Fourteenth.”
HHS accomplishes its mission through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception. Eleven operating divisions, including eight agencies in the U.S. Public Health Service and three human services agencies, administer HHS’s programs. While HHS is a domestic agency working to protect and promote the health and well-being of the American people, the interconnectedness of our world requires that HHS engage globally to fulfill its mission. In addition, staff divisions provide leadership, direction, and policy guidance to the Department. [Emphasis added.]
If this seems like an unprecedented, unwarranted, and unconstitutional redefinition of the 14th Amendment by the president of the United States, that’s because it is. But the strategy of declaring fetal personhood by fiat is nothing new under the conservative sun. Republican platforms and politicians have been proposing it for years.