One Child, One Vote

J.D. Vance's cynical suggestion.

The Yale lawyer and bestselling author J. D. Vance floated a bizarre idea over the weekend in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat from his native Ohio. And it’s catching on in all the wrong places.

NY Post (“GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance blames ‘childless left’ for culture wars“):

Ohio Republican US Senate candidate J.D. Vance is taking aim at New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other leaders of the “childless left” for their lack of “physical commitment to the future of this country” — suggesting a radical change in voting rights to combat them.

“Why is this just a normal fact of … life, for the leaders of our country to be people who don’t have a personal and direct stake in it via their own offspring?” Vance asked Friday at an Alexandria, Va. conference hosted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, The Federalist reported.

Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” entered the race to replace retiring Ohio Sen. Rob Portman this month.

“The left isn’t just criticizing our country … it’s trying to take our very sense of national pride and national purpose away from us,” he said, blaming figures such as Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, along with AOC, for stoking “cultural wars.”

Harris has called herself the “momala” of her two grown stepchildren, Cole and Ella Emhoff. Booker, Buttigieg, and Ocasio-Cortez have no children.

Vance offered a startling solution to what he called the “civilizational crisis”: extra voting power for parents.

“The Democrats are talking about giving the vote to 16-year-olds,” Vance said.

Instead, he said, “Let’s give votes to all children in this country, but let’s give control over those votes to the parents of the children.”

“Doesn’t this mean that parents get a bigger say in how democracy functions? … Yes,” he concluded.

So, even if we’re charitable and ignore the fact that his examples are all people of color or gay, this is just a silly argument. And it’s not like parents Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are espousing different policies. Or Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi, both of whom had/have multiple children and grandchildren, for that matter.

But that didn’t stop the idiots on Fox & Friends from hopping on board.

“I think it’s an interesting idea,” host Will Cain said. “I’m into interesting ideas. Let’s think about it. Let’s talk about it. He’s saying childless leaders are making decisions that are short-term in mind, not focused on the long-term future health of this country because they don’t have a stake in the game. Parents have a stake in the game, they have children so give parents a bigger say.”

Co-host Pete Hegseth pointed out that fellow co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy would get nine votes because she has nine children.

“I don’t know about that solution, that seems not feasible,” Campos-Duffy said. “But I will say that I agree with the premise of it, that it is absolutely true that people like [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], Pete Buttigieg — you can name the left-wing politicians, people who think that we should legalize marijuana because they don’t have kids and they don’t really have a stake in what that looks like.”

“I agree with him 100% that they don’t have a stake in the game,” she continued.

“That is looking at it through the lens of the actual solution, which is the family unit,” co-host Pete Hegseth agreed. “So many ills that we have in our society stem from that breakdown. I agree with you. [It’s] not a feasible policy but what it is in principle is a reflection of the fact that — what Ronald Reagan said, freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

“And if you’re Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — our favorite comrade — and you’ve said the world is going to end in 12 years, what do you care?” he added. “It’s this idea of absolute pessimism that the world’s going to end and as a result, we’re the problem and don’t have kids.”

Again, this is just idiotic. And, indeed, the argument would seem to go the other way, no? Global warming is likely to have relatively modest effect on AOC and Buttigieg personally. It’s only if we’re worried about future generations that it’s worth massive investments now.

Politically, though, this is a tone likely to resonate with conservatives and non-urban voters. A Yahoo Finance piece from 2019 titled “Republicans Have More Kids Than Democrats. A Lot More Kids.” notes,

Liberals are not having enough babies to keep up with conservatives. Arthur Brooks, a social scientist at Syracuse University, was the first to point this out all the way back in 2006 when he went on ABC News and blew blue staters minds. “The political Right is having a lot more kids than the political Left,” he explained. “The gap is actually 41 percent.” Data on the U.S. birth rate from the General Social Survey confirms this trend—a random sample of 100 conservative adults will raise 208 children, while 100 liberal adults will raise a mere 147 kids. That’s a massive gap.

When we collected the number of children per capita in each state and then compared the data to statewide voting records, we found that the trend is so strong, that it can even be observed at the state level. Red States came out with significantly more kids per capita than Blue States.

Here’s the graphic:

An Institute for Family Studies report from right after last November’s election (“The Conservative Fertility Advantage“) adds:

In an election post-mortem interview, progressive election analyst David Shor claimed that increasingly delayed marriage and childbearing have given Democrats an electoral advantage and that these changes in family formation are “reason for hope” for Democrats. Indeed, the recent presidential election revealed sharp divides in American society: between urban and rural, men and women, Black and white, conservative and liberal. Less recognized is the way in which different approaches to family life also shaped the 2020 presidential election. Whereas Americans on both sides of the aisle once shared a basic model of family, today our political divisions show up quite literally at birth, with conservatives having (and desiring to have) considerably more children than liberals. We are not only divided by our political visions, but also by our values and behaviors around childbearing and childrearing; that is, by our visions of family life.

One way this shows up is fertility. In this election, the association between fertility rates and voting patterns was crystal clear. 

This seems to be Schor’s hobby horse! Regardless, here’s what we saw in 2016 and 2020:

Data about fertility rates is only available for around 600 of the largest counties, thus many small, rural counties are excluded. But the relationship shown here is clear: President Trump did better in counties with higher birth rates, and the difference is fairly large, with the most pro-Biden counties having total fertility rates almost 25% lower than the most pro-Trump counties. If anything, this effect is understated, since the most pro-Trump counties were small, rural counties that usually have even higher birth rates and are excluded from this analysis. Indeed, Yi Fuxian at the University of Wisconsin showed that the relationship between voting and fertility is even more pronounced when we look at fertility rates and state voting trends.

Nor is the relationship between fertility and presidential voting a spurious result related to urbanization, race, or state practices in drawing county lines. The figure below extends the analysis to more presidential elections, and includes controls for the state a county is in, the county’s non-Hispanic white population share, and the county’s population density.

There’s whole lot more, much of it wonky, in that report.

An, only tangentially related but included because it struck me as counterintuitive, a 2013 Pew report titled “Having daughters makes parents more likely to be Republican.”

Two sociologists have found that parents who have daughters are more inclined to support the GOP and turn a cold shoulder to Democrats.

In newly published findings that challenge earlier research, Dalton Conley of New York University and Emily Rauscher of the University of Kansas found that having more daughters than sons and having a daughter first “significantly reduces the likelihood of Democratic identification and significantly increases the strength of Republican Party identification.”

Not only is the daughter effect statistically significant, it’s substantively large.  They found that overall, “compared to those with no daughters, parents with all daughters are 14% less likely to identify as a Democrat….[and] 11% more likely to identify as a Republican than parents with no daughters,” they write in the journal Sociological Forum.

The daughters effect is considerably stronger among better educated and wealthier parents, they find. But among those farther down the socioeconomic ladder, it weakens to statistical insignificance.

Their startling conclusions are based on data collected two decades ago from 661 respondents with biological children interviewed for the 1994 General Social Survey conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. Even though this national trend study has been administered regularly since 1972, the 1994 survey is the only one that included questions about the sex and birth order of a respondent’s biological children. (Surveys typically measure only whether a respondent has any children, including step-children and adopted children.)

The researchers note that their results fly in the face of the few other studies that test the effect of daughters on political attitudes. Among them is a 2008 voting analysis of members of Congress. It found U.S. Senators and Representatives with more daughters voted more liberally than other members.  A 2010 study in Great Britain found having daughters increased the likelihood of voting for the Labor or Liberal Democrat parties as opposed to the Conservative Party, though the data are limited to “children who live at home, do not include information on those who have left home, and include step-children,” Rauscher and Conley write.

However, their findings are consistent with a recent study that found boys who grew up with sisters in the house were more likely to identify as adults with the Republican Party.

But why would having a daughter cause parents to become more Republican? The authors speculate that men and women might want more socially conservative policies when they have daughters and thus be more attracted to the GOP.

Regardless, Vance is being cynical but perhaps shrewd here. Not only is he playing to parents, which would seem to be the right play for a would-be Republican Senator, he’s simultaneously playing to the trope that Democrats are less fully American because they’re not doing their part in keeping up the population.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2022, US Politics, US Senate
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    The Nazis just gave out medals to mothers who had lots of children.

    21
  2. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: The Soviets did the same—and Kazakhstan apparently still carries on the tradition.

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  3. Jen says:

    J.D. Vance…I’ve never seen anyone squander their time in the limelight quite as quickly and ham-handedly as he is doing. Someone seems rather desperate to get his name in the papers.

    This is a very, very dumb idea and as I noted in the open thread, one would think a lawyer would understand how the one person/one vote thing works.

    Somewhat sidebar: Buttigieg has been very open about his desire to have a family, as has Chasten.

    There are plenty of people out there struggling with infertility and I wonder how this will go over with them. Because what they really need is a reminder of how tilted the world is to those who have children.

    10
  4. Scott says:

    Just want to point out the R-Square on that chart is .18. Not a high correlation. Quite a jump to conclusion.

    8
  5. Jen says:

    Any idea why New Hampshire is showing as a red state on that map? I’d say with 2 Dem US Senators, 2 Dem Reps, and then a Republican Governor/Senate/House that we’d be more of a swing state.

    3
  6. KM says:

    But why would having a daughter cause parents to become more Republican? The authors speculate that men and women might want more socially conservative policies when they have daughters and thus be more attracted to the GOP.

    Because you start internalizing societal BS toxic norm more with daughters. I doubt it’s ever crossed a conservative father’s mind to worry about holding a purity ball for his son or give him the “dirty gym shoe” lecture regarding his virginity. All the nasty stereotypes come to roost and you start worrying about nonsense like making sure your daughter’s a “good girl”. It starts early too- studies have shown parents start caring about things like colors and pretty fabrics and the right toys in infants so their little girl looks “cute” rather than care about developmental markers or encouraging traits like intelligence. The GOP might tell you your daughter’s gonna be a $^#$&% by age 12 if you don’t vote conservative but we’re primed as a society to fall for that crap; that’s why they fight so hard on the cultural wars and any social change to improve women’s lives.

    4
  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    From the Guardian article I linked to in the open forum,

    In Hungary under Orbán, Vance said, “they offer loans to newly married couples that are forgiven at some point later if those couples have actually stayed together and had kids.”

    “Why can’t we do that here? Why can’t we actually promote family formation?”

    In response, Dave Weigel, a Washington Post reporter, tweeted that Vance should “pretend I’m not here”. He added: “Interesting speech. Vance praised a policy by Viktor Orbán that pays parents who have multiple children … but didn’t mention the Democrats’ child tax credit.”

    12
  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    But why would having a daughter cause parents to become more Republican?

    First I want to note that the data is almost 2 decades old. A lot has happened since ’94.

    2nd, speaking only for myself and my 2 sons who have 4 daughters, all 3 of us are staunch DEMs, because of those girls. We know that the Republican vision of the future only has room for women who know their place.

    13
  9. MarkedMan says:

    So, even if we’re charitable and ignore the fact that his examples are all people of color or gay

    James, being charitable can cross into being ridiculous. This is Replacement Theory. This is the decades old theory by the likes of Pat Buchanan and the Paul family, whose newsletter used to discuss this in between screeds against the “mud people”. To discuss Vance’s proposition while setting aside the underlying tenet that certain whites need to breed more lest their gene pool become contaminated by darker, inferior people, is not “charitable”, it’s naive.

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  10. KM says:

    Also, I’d like to see the breakdown of the red states by race and economic group. There’s an unspoken logic bomb here – the “childless left” is usually portrayed as gays and white elitist liberals, not minorities who are seen as constantly having kids to get welfare. Taking away the vote of the “childless left” would therefore increasing minority voting power significantly to the point they would be the domination voting block, regardless of this tinkering. I’m willing to bet someone like Vance would balk at giving the vote to them instead of their white counterpart or they wouldn’t be screamin’ about replacement theory and immigration.

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  11. Not the IT Dept. says:

    LOL. Why not 2/3 of a vote? There’s historical precedent for that.

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  12. KM says:

    Sorry – can’t leave this one alone.

    Other thoughts – who gets credit for the kid? Do fathers and mothers who’ve lost custody get to vote or does the fact that they reproduced once still count? Does a man that donates sperm or woman donating eggs anonymously count even if they never know for sure it was used? What if you adopt a kid, are you a “parent” now in their eyes or does it have to be a bio kid (seems likely given their replacement theory roots)? Are deadbeat parents eligible even thought they don’t seem to care about the welfare of their offspring? What about family member who aren’t technically parents or official caretakers but help raise a kid by contributing significantly to their lives via money, housing or emotional support?

    8
  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The right to vote cannot be denied based on

    “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

    So I guess if you are intent on denying the vote to people, then denying the right to vote based on number of children is a viable option.
    It’s just striking how intent Republicans are on choosing who gets to vote and who doesn’t. Which is ironic when they waste their own votes on ass-hats like Trump, Cruz, Cornyn, Gym Jordan, and Ron Johnson.

    3
  14. Kathy says:

    Isn’t this like giving women the vote so long as their husbands or fathers or oldest male relative cast it?

    4
  15. Mu Yixiao says:

    But why would having a daughter cause parents to become more Republican

    This is the problem with correlation: They’ve obviously gotten the causation backwards… Daughters don’t turn you Republican, Republican men just aren’t manly enough to have sons. >:D

    2
  16. CSK says:

    @KM: @KM:
    I’m glad you raised this point. It was one of my first reactions. I assumed Vance is playing to his audience and their fear of being replaced by people of color, specifically Black people.

    7
  17. Joe says:

    I agree with MarkedMan that this thinly veiled idea that “we” should have more children when “they” aren’t is a feature of the argument. The putative substance – that we are actually going to give parents more votes – is unworkable on its face as even the Fox people noted in the OP. Vance is not advancing a real policy proposal; he is just blowing a racist dog whistle.

    4
  18. Joe says:

    I agree with MarkedMan that this thinly veiled idea that “we” should have more children when “they” aren’t is a feature of the argument. The putative substance – that we are actually going to give parents more votes – is unworkable on its face as even the Fox people noted in the OP and KM elaborates on above. Vance is not advancing a real policy proposal; he is just blowing a racist dog whistle. That’s really the beginning and end of it.

    7
  19. gVOR08 says:

    In 1960 world population was 3 billion. Now, 60 years later, it’s 8 billion. COVID demonstrated that people don’t understand what exponential means. People who support higher birth rates are another demonstration. The population growth rate has shrunk considerably in recent decades, and that’s a good thing. Interesting, though, to find out Vance is innumerate.

    4
  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    Since R counties generally are economic drags on the nation’s economy, why not deny those counties the vote and keep and treat them as breeding farms?

    4
  21. Scott says:

    What they really want is one dollar, one vote.

    5
  22. Chip Daniels says:

    There are a lot of statistical correlations that can be drawn between this demographic attribute and voting for Trump, but the most significant one, the one that swamps all other variables is race.
    There isn’t any demographic group that Trump won that isn’t modified with “White”.

    Which is why I’ve come to loathe the term “Populism”.

    Populism is about drawing a line around some particular group of people and nominating them as The People, while everyone outside the circle are the UnPeople, beings of lesser worth, unworthy of respect or representation.

    Often the UnPeople are the economic elite, but they can just as easily be Jews or Gypsies, the educated or secular, whatever particular group the populist happens to hate.

    Vance’s (and conservatives’) entire political platform is premised on the preferred hierarchy between the Ingroup and Outgroup. Some people are entitled to rule, while others are not. His argument about families is just another variation of the theme.

    6
  23. Scott F. says:

    Even before Vance gets into the cynical one child/one vote crapola, he makes this statement:

    “The left isn’t just criticizing our country … it’s trying to take our very sense of national pride and national purpose away from us.”

    So while the “solution” Vance offers (more votes for our kind) is cynical, the “problem” he’s suggesting is worse. Here are just some of the things the Democrats are proposing that will destroy our national pride and purpose: infrastructure spending that includes social services & broadband, extending the child tax credit, investments to combat global warming, rules to protect the right to vote, etc. What the hell?

    This goes back to the “Talk to Trump Voters” subject. Who’s going to seek common ground with someone who wants to take away their “purpose and pride” – especially when no specifics are offered? Certainly no one who listens to J.D. Vance. Politicians on the right only demonize us, but liberals are supposed to be the one’s who need to be more respectful.

    6
  24. Kathy says:

    @Scott F.:

    How about instead we issue every white person who wants it a sash that says “Very Special Person,” and a mirror in front of which they can say daily “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”

    4
  25. DrDaveT says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    They’ve obviously gotten the causation backwards… Daughters don’t turn you Republican, Republican men just aren’t manly enough to have sons. >:D

    I’m betting on survivorship bias. Male children of Republicans are less likely to live to be counted.

  26. Kathy says:

    But why would having a daughter cause parents to become more Republican?

    I guess it depends on whether said parents want to see their daughters be able to make something of themselves and achieve a measure of professional success, or whether they just want them never to have sex.

    2
  27. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Or, as in the case of D. Trump, never have sex with anyone but him.

  28. Gustopher says:

    Well, JD Vance has realized that the Republican Party is all about making stupid statements, rather than running on real policy goals, but I’m not sure he’s saying “socialism” enough.

    6
  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    And just when I thought the idea had reached peak stupidity, the money quote:

    Instead, he said, “Let’s give votes to all children in this country, but let’s give control over those votes to the parents of the children.”

    Stupidity just zoomed completely out of my field of vision completely. Wow!

    2
  30. grumpy realist says:

    So aside from saying that priests and nuns shouldn’t get the vote, what about people like myself, who made the decision not to have kids because of the genetic crap I would be unloading on them?

    Vance is a cynical idiot.

    5
  31. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    The fastest way to get this off the table would probably be to to take this to its logical conclusion and additionally distribute “normal” votes based on age (perhaps 100-Age). After all an 80-year-ols has limited stakes in the future. Might be funny to see them wriggle out of this in a discussion forum :P.

    12
  32. Scott F. says:

    @Gustopher:
    You know how addicts keep needing to up the dosage to get the fix? For Trumpists, “socialism” doesn’t have enough pop anymore. It’s too close to an intellectual argument.

    That’s why J.D. Vance is leaning so hard on the ‘destroying our way of life’ argument. This was The Former Guy this weekend in Arizona:

    ”Our nation is up against the most sinister forces…This nation does not belong to them, this nation belongs to you…”

    You can’t get the undying devotion without making it existential.

    3
  33. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott:

    What they really want is one dollar, one vote.

    Want? They’ve pretty much got it. And John Robert’s wants to ensure it’ll last.

    2
  34. Chip Daniels says:

    @Scott F.:

    ”This nation does not belong to them, this nation belongs to you…”

    The very heart of Republicanism, the idea that anyone other than themselves is inherently illegitimate.
    If I had claimed that “This is what Republicans believe” most people would assume I was creating a strawman.

    For some reason, Republicans keep insistently telling us who they are and what they want but everyone keeps refusing to believe them, and instead persist in believing in a fantasy Reasonable Republican who just wants a modest government and balanced budget.

    6
  35. KM says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:
    Meh – they’re already limiting it to the childless LEFT, notice no discussion of taking voting away from the childless RIGHT. They’re not gonna care if you point out old folks have no stake in the future because they’ll say they already had kids way back when and did their duty.

    1
  36. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius: I have long been wanting to get a sticker for my truck or t-shirt that says, “Don’t let old fcks like me decide your future. VOTE!”

    2
  37. senyordave says:

    What a vile person J D Vance has become.

    3
  38. CSK says:

    @senyordave:
    I think he always was. I’ve never been one of his admirers.

    3
  39. JohnMcC says:

    @MarkedMan: A similar (not identical but damn close) social movement and public debate topic 100 years ago was more straightforward. They worried about “race suicide”. It was a big deal. Public figures like Pres Teddy Roosevelt had opinions (and plenty children).

    1
  40. mattbernius says:

    @senyordave:

    What a vile person J D Vance has become.

    Generally speaking, I don’t think was something that happened overnight. I have to wonder how much this was always already the way he was.

    3
  41. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: I would guess that a concentrated close reading of Hillbilly Elegy would show the roots of the current version of JD Vance, but I’m not certain that it would be worth the close reading to discover those roots.

    @OzarkHillbilly: Early in my teaching career, a common question I faced as a substitute (or as we called us back then “guest”) teacher was “why do we have to study history anyway.” I used to answer “because of George Santayana”–explaining that he was the guy who talked about people not learning from history being doomed to repeat it. I would go on to suggest that sometime in the future some elected goofball was going to suggest that the nation go to war and that if you students don’t understand…Vietnam, for example… you’re going to get stuck in a near endless and futile war. Additionally, you shouldn’t count of people of my generation remembering Vietnam because when this war happens our kids will be grown and we won’t care who’s coming home in coffins. You need to protect your own interests.

    25 or 30 years later, I don’t hear that question, but I suspect that it’s because I live in a small, dying mill town where the “good jobs” pay about half of what they did in the past–mostly NOT adjusted for inflation (the unions got busted as the mills were sold off). Most of my students here realize that their future isn’t in their home town. Bruce was right–the jobs are leaving and they ain’t coming back.

  42. Scott F. says:

    @mattbernius:
    I would say that JD Vance has always been a skilled panderer to his target audience. What has happened suddenly is that he has turned away from the Book of the Month crowd and acquired a new target in the Trumpist base.

    1
  43. James Joyner says:

    @senyordave: @Just nutha ignint cracker: @Scott F.: I read Hillbilly Elegy back when it was the thing and recognized a lot of my dad’s family in it. And, while most people seems to think it was a sympathetic treatment of what had been called ‘white trash’ subculture, my takeaway was ‘What shitty human beings these people are.’ Despite a Yale Law degree, I also saw some dim witted political thinking in the closing chapters. He’s clearly pandering to Trump voters now but he didn’t have THAT far to travel.

    9
  44. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    @James Joyner: This.

    Shameful as it is to admit, he only rose to prominence because he pandered to liberals worst instincts. He was basically the left’s Herman Cain, telling us that the white working class really were that lazy and stupid and that it wasn’t our fault that we couldn’t reach them with lofty ideals. He also essentially recommended a certain type of lefty nationalism that always has an audience at the margins of the group.

    1
  45. Jen says:

    I read Hillbilly Elegy and ended up with an impression similar to @James Joyner: . The family managed to get on solid financial footing despite their struggles at one point, and then managed to have it all fall apart due to bad decisions. This happens everywhere, but these were particularly unpleasant people.

    JD Vance spent a lot of time in that book blaming the system for not allowing kids to be handed over to grandparents. As someone who had to navigate that system on behalf of constituents several times when I was a legislative aide, I can tell you there’s a reason for that: frequently abuse is not something new to the parent’s generation.

    I frequently described the book as “interesting,” which it was. But it was not a shining beacon of truth in a dark world, and with some of his recent “ideas,” Mr. Vance perhaps is not as far from that world as he thought.

    2
  46. Blue Galangal says:

    @KM: Do I get 400 votes for my viable eggs? 😀 I guess men would get billions of votes if we take this personhood thing to its logical extreme. #everyspermissacred