Mississippi votes on Personhood, religous philosophy
We don’t have a religious government, a theocracy, a series of beliefs that are written in law. So what happens if we put a philosophy, or religious belief, to vote? We vote on actions we wish our government to take, but when the question is not rules, not a law, not an action, but just a philosophical statement, what does that mean?. If you believe X vote “yes”. Don’t worry about the rest.
This is the case in the Personhood Amendment vote taking place in Mississippi. The ballot initiative proclaims that human life begins at conception (“The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization…”). It is the result of the Personhood movement, a national effort to outlaw abortion by creating laws that make the Personhood Philosophy not just religious or personal philosophy, but the written law of the land. A public ballot initiative will have decided one of the most philosophically complicated questions of humanity: when does life begin?
Personhood would outlaw all abortion, regardless of circumstance. It provides a fertilized egg with the rights of a person, thus making rape or incest cases ineligible for abortion. There is a logic to it: “ The mother is a victim and there’s no reason to make a victim a murderer.” If abortion is murder, all the time no matter what, then this line of reasoning makes sense. Thus, if this is one’s personal belief, one should push for laws that make all abortion illegal. But that is not what is being done. This amendment does not ban abortion; it says that personhood begins at conception.
The results are greater than outlawing abortion. Personhood provides constitutional rights to fertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs become viable fetuses around 20% of the time, according to Infertility Specialist Randall Hines. Is that a reasonable rule? Every fertilized egg, no matter what, would have equal constitutional protection. But what about the other 80% of the time? Does every potential fertilized egg then carry over into de facto legal protection? If you have unprotected sex, you cannot know by the next morning if you fertilized an egg, so what does that mean? Does that outlaw the morning after pill? Does that mean that IUDs are illegal? Does it outlaw every form of birth control that operates after the act? Are we asking voters to roll back the clock on medical advancement that has truly improved quality of life and the safety of women so that a religious statement can become law?
This is the problem with the Personhood Movement, and the danger of its ballot initiatives: no one knows what happens if it passes. The ballot is just a principle; they are asking the state to make law one groups belief, and whatever the results of legalizing that belief are will be dealt with later. Those results are totally unknown: “no state has ever given an embryo constitutional rights and, legally, it’s not quite clear what happens when you do.” Embryonic stem-cell research is out, one would imagine, given the language of personhood. In vitro fertilization is also in question, given the manner in which the process “results in unused fertilized eggs.”
The primary purpose of the Personhood Amendment is to ban abortion, there is no question about why it exists, and where its purpose lies. But voting on a religious statement, a philosophical statement, has repercussions that are too hard to predict, and the potential for lawmakers to abuse such language is too great. This language is broad, purposefully left open, in order to help it become law. It is a religious statement on a ballot in a religiously conservative state. There is reason to fear what is possible once that statement is law, but there is also reason to fear the further incremental movement of Christianity into American Law. We shouldn’t pretend that anything else is happening. Sally Quinn makes this clear:
Attorney Brad Prewett, executive director of the “Yes on 26” campaign, was quoted as saying “It’s an opportunity for people to say that we’re made in the image of God.” And the founder of Personhood Mississippi said, “We’re just going to the heart of the matter, which is this: Is this a person or not? God says it is and science has confirmed it.”
There it is. The law of the land, which gives women the right to choose, is being challenged for religious reasons.
Voting on a religious philosophy is frightening business. It goes against the barest readings of the US Constitution. I’m not a voting historian, and I’m not claiming that such votes have never taken place before. And it is clear that if the vote passes, court challenges will result, and the legality of this amendment will be fought over, likely for years, before any legal changes result. It could be thrown out as unconstitutional and no legal ramifications will result.
In either case, the vote itself remains a major development. This is a vote for a simple belief, a heavily religious belief at that. The Personhood vote is dividing Mississippi, but the expectation is that the Personhood Amendment will pass. Hopefully Mississippi voters recognize that the results of such an amendment are too unpredictable to allow. As one obstetrician and supporter said of the vote: “This is a principle. … All of those other details can be worked out.” That’s exactly the problem.
‘Personhood’ Agenda is Theocracy at Religious Dispatches.
Mississippi Personhood Law Could Cause Legal Mayhem at HuffPo.
Doctors call Mississippi Personhood initiative dangerous at CBSNews.