Katherine Q. Seelye, New York Times, November 9, 2011
One of the biggest surprises of the night (November 8) was Mississippi’s rejection of a far-reaching and stringent anti-abortion initiative known as the “personhood” amendment, which had inspired a ferocious national debate. The measure, Initiative 26, would have amended the state Constitution to define life “to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
Supporters, including evangelical Christians, said it would have stopped the murder of innocent life and sent a clarion moral call to the world. They said they expected that passage in Mississippi would have built support for similar laws in other states.
Opponents, led by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, said the proposal would have outlawed all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest and when the woman’s life was in danger; would have barred morning-after pills and certain contraceptives such as IUD’s; and could have limited in vitro fertility procedures.
“The message from Mississippi is clear,” Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. “An amendment that allows politicians to further interfere in our personal, private medical decisions, including a woman’s right to choose safe, legal abortion, is unacceptable.”
The push for a personhood amendment split the country’s anti-abortion movement. Traditional leaders including the Roman Catholic bishops and National Right to Life opposed it on strategic grounds, fearing it would lead to a defeat in the United States Supreme Court and set back their decades-long efforts to chip away at abortion rights.
From NPR's On Point website, October 341, 2011
The abortion battle goes deep next Tuesday in the state of Mississippi. Voters there go to the polls to decide whether to write into the Mississippi constitution an amendment stating that life begins at conception. Sperm meets egg and you would have a legal person.
It would make abortion in any circumstance virtually impossible under the law. Backers of the so-called “personhood” movement hope to take it national. Use it to batter down Roe v Wade. Mississippi may be their first big victory
Mississippi voters will consider an amendment to the state constitution next week that would legally define a person as such from the moment of conception. That would mean that abortions – and several methods of birth control – would constitute the taking of a life.
Supporters of the bill see it as just a first step within a larger push to end abortion. “I want abortion to go away from Mississippi,” said Dr. Beverly McMillan, an obstetrician and gynecologist and President of Pro-Life Mississippi.
Opponents, meanwhile, see it as an infringement on a woman’s constitutionally protected right to secure an abortion, as well as an intrusion of the government in the relationship between the doctor and patient – one that could make life-saving medical procedures, and even types of birth control, illegal.
“This is a real shift in the way that health care decisions are made,” said Randall Hines, physician and head of Mississippi Reproductive Medicine, and a supporter of the amendment. “If we pass this amendment, we’re going to insert state government into the medical decision making process in a way that’s never been done before.”
Enshrining personhood at the state level is a nationwide effort, but one that has been controversial even among anti-abortion groups. Some prominent groups have opposed the personhood movement; for fear that a failure could set back the anti-abortion cause.
Supporters of the Mississippi effort reject those criticisms. “Those groups have had over 30 years to do something about abortion,” said Jennifer Mason, Communications Director and national spokesperson for Personhood USA. “We’ve recognized that there is a loophole in Roe v. Wade, where Justice Potter Stewart said that if a case could be made for personhood, the case for abortion collapses.”
“There’s no loophole in the constitutional law,” argued Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The court decided clearly in Roe v. Wade that “person” does not include the unborn. It’s in the decision; it’s clear. This is an attempt to reverse Roe v. Wade.”
“Mississippi is both a socially conservative state and a religious state,” said Jeffrey Hess, capital reporter, Mississippi Public Broadcasting. “It is fertile ground for a movement that wants to end abortion nationwide.” He said that the anti-abortion measures often enjoy bi-partisan support in the state. “There’s a real likelihood that it will pass,” Hess said.
In Mississippi, the vote is apparently likely to go to the "pro-life" side of the debate. And it signals a continuing and more protracted political, religious and ethical battle in each of the remaining 49 states. The United States, having become one of, if not the most progressive state with respect to a woman's right to make decisions affecting her body, not to mention the family's right to decide on their obligations as parents, will once again head toward what is nothing short of an incipient theocracy, a state dominated by the position of the most populous church, the Roman Catholic, combined with many of the right-wing protestant fundamentalist churches.
The case for whether a fetus is a human being, part of the debate during the Roe v Wade decision at the Supreme Court, can apparently now be incontrovertibly proven through the use of new technology, according to the supporters of this ballot initiative. Nevertheless, the legal history of this question would suggest a firmly enshrined right of choice for American women.
Of course, regardless of the outcome of this Mississippi vote, the issue will once again be joined at the Supreme Court, where the outcome seems uncertain. George W. Bush appointed at least two very conservative, Roman Catholic justices, Roberts and Alito, while President Obama also appointed two female, and more liberal justices, Sotomayer and Kagan. Depending on when the issue is joined at the Supreme Court, and the court's composition, the matter could go either way.
Overturning Roe v Wade, would, in this opinion of this writer, be a regressive step in United States cultural and political wars; it would demonstrate an adherence to the literalist interpretation of scripture that can and will only support more legalistic and narrow definitions with the social contract, which is already extreme fragile and thin.
From inside the country, it seems that the proponents of this initiative have the moral high ground, without having to answer the question of how the state cares, or doesn't care, for the children currently living in the country.
And what is shocking to me is that proponents would ban abortion even in the case of rape, incest or when the health and life of the mother is at risk, and that suggests an uncompromising position, typical of the strict, literalist readings of both law and scripture.
A read tragedy in failed development of a once vibrant nation!