Friday, November 4, 2011


Mississippi is set to vote in less than a week on a state amendment that would redefine a 'person' as existing "from the moment of fertilization, cloning or functional equivalent thereof". Yes, it includes cloning. It's the latest round of attempts to undermine the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Keep in mind that Roe v. Wade has been 'on the books' so to speak for almost 40 years now, yet has not been overturned.

Proposition 26 is, pardon the pun, the poster child for unintended consequences. It's one of those ideas that sounds interesting in a philosophical discussion about where life begins, but is a disaster waiting to happen if actually applied. The problem is that it opens the door to all sorts of complications that the simple minded folks who drew it up never considered.

Let's for a moment assume that this proposition was passed. We shall also assume, for the purposes of discussion, that it's not struck down immediately after introduction due to Constitutional conflicts, certainly a possibility. Based on the language, "moment of fertilization," could effectively outlaw some common forms of birth control such as the IUD. Some have even claimed that it could effect the Pill. Now there seems to be some disagreement on exactly where the birth control 'cut off' would be, though at least some personhood amendment supporters have expressed their belief and/or hope that it would ban the Pill. That in itself should worry you as it means that at least some of these people will fight to try and ensure it does include the Pill. Don't even think about any kind of birth control for victims of rape. This amendment would all but guarantee that these brutalized women would be forced by the state to carry their attacker's child.

What about a miscarriage or even a stillbirth? Does that trigger a mandatory homicide investigation? Sounds silly, but think about it. We've already had a woman in Mississippi charged with murder following the stillbirth of her baby, and while she did reportedly use cocaine there was no evidence that this had anything to do with the stillbirth.  So as crazy as it sounds, it's not a hypothetical question anymore. What if a woman smokes during pregnancy, could that be grounds for child endangerment charges?

But let's move outside the semi-obvious for a moment. Depending on interpretations this could effect in vitro fertilization and therefore endanger fertility treatments in general. On the same subject, will fertilized eggs be considered legal people? How will that effect inheritance law? Will this become part of census data, where every pregnant woman will need to note the number of fetuses she's carrying as members of the household? If the woman is injured or ill and you have to choose between her life or the life of her baby, will the judicial system step in to defend the rights of the fetus against the mother? What happens if the husband or her family choose to save the woman at the expense of the fetus? Would that be first degree murder now? While some of these examples may seem extreme, that doesn't mean they won't come into play. After all, we Americans have a knack for pushing the envelope in just about every facet of life.

I know we would all love a chart that clearly noted where 'life' starts, but it's not going to happen. It seems like it should be a simple question, but it's not. It's another of those annoying gray areas where everyone can come up with their own answer and make a case that they are right. This is why the abortion debate will not be solved in our lifetime and probably not for centuries, if ever. This "Personhood Amendment," while it may sound reasonable to the anti-abortion faction, is a bureaucratic, social and judicial land mine. Not only will it not clear up the question, it will muddy the waters far worse that they are now. Sometimes it's just as important to know when NOT to do something as it is to know when to do it. This is a good time NOT to do something.