In less than two weeks, Mississippi will vote on an amendment for its state constitution that declares "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof." Proposition 26, aka the "Personhood" amendment, would, as the NY Times puts it, "would ban virtually all abortions, including those resulting from rape or incest. It would bar some birth control methods, including IUDs and 'morning-after pills,' which prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. It would also outlaw the destruction of embryos created in laboratories." And there's a possibility of it might "even open the door to investigating women who have suffered miscarriages."
While the executive director of the Yes on 26 campaign Brad Prewitt tells the Times, "I view it as transformative. Personhood is bigger than just shutting abortion clinics; it’s an opportunity for people to say that we’re made in the image of God," this will be an incredible boon for lawyers and likely tie up courts for years if it passes. The Clarion-Ledger reported on a debate at the Mississippi College School of Law:
Rebecca Kiessling of Michigan, a family law attorney who supports the initiative, said if it passes, the state attorney general or a local prosecutor could announce the intention to start enforcing homicide laws by using the new definition of "personhood." She said that likely would prompt a court battle.
"We would have to wait this out as it went up through the court system," Kiessling said.
Amelia McGowan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said the word "person" appears in state law more than 9,000 times. She said if the amendment passes, "I think it will change the entire framework of state law."
Glenn Cohen, a Harvard Law School professor who participated in the panel discussion by teleconference, said if the amendment passes, judges will have to interpret it and determine how it applies to Mississippi law and whether, for example, it would affect birth control, IVF or only abortion.
"Whether you are for or against abortion, whatever your position is, this is a bad amendment - not because of what it represents but because it is ambiguous," Cohen said.
Still, a lawyer for an anti-abortion group said, "There is a moment when the chromosomes from a woman and the chromosomes from a man unite and form a unique, new individual. The question, then, is simple: Is it fully human - is he or she fully human? And is he or she alive? The answer to both of those questions is emphatically yes. As a society, it becomes incumbent upon us to take steps to recognize that fact and then to implement laws to protect it." (The Center for Reproductive Rights says, "The Supreme Court of the United States has clearly held that constitutional rights do not extend to fetuses or embryos and that neither legislatures nor courts can rely on a particular theory of when life begins to prohibit a woman from exercising her right to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability.")
The Mississippi Supreme Court has previously decided that the proposition does not violate the state constitution, allowing it to go to ballot. The two candidates for governor also support the measure: Democrat Johnny DuPree said, "The reason I have to say that is because my wife and I were pregnant when we married. We were teenagers. We married. Didn't abort. We married. My daughter who we didn't abort has a 4-year-old son. He is an in vitro baby. So, can you see why? Personhood ... starts at fertilization. If we didn't feel that way, we wouldn't have had our baby. And if we felt that way, I wouldn't have my grandbaby." But what about the other fertilized embryos?
According to the Times, "Its passage could energize similar drives brewing in Florida, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Wisconsin and other states." Yesterday, in North Carolina, a restrictive abortion law took effect—which requires women to be informed of "adverse psychological effects" of abortions—though a judge did temporarily block "the law's most controversial requirement — that a woman getting an abortion must first view a narrated ultrasound image of the fetus."