Personhood USA Pushes Another Personhood Ballot Measure In Mississippi

imagesThe people of Mississippi just can’t seem to convince Personhood USA to take no for an answer. The anti-abortion group is trying once again to place a personhood initiative on the ballot in future elections.

According to the Hattiesburg American,

The proposed initiative says: “The right to life begins at conception. All human beings, at every stage of development, are unique, created in God’s image and shall have equal rights as persons under the law.”

In other words, the measure would declare that a joined sperm and egg is a person, which would ban abortion in the state of Mississippi and challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that protects a woman’s right to choose.

Personhood USA contends that voters were confused about the 2011 measure, which they soundly rejected in November 2011 by more than 55%, claiming that the wording was misleading. Apparently Personhood USA doesn’t think the voters of Mississippi are intelligent enough to understand what they are voting against even though the 2011 wording couldn’t have been clearer that the measure sought to declare personhood as beginning at conception. The Hattiesburg American reports the 2011 Proposition 26 ballot asked: “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?”

Considering the measure failed by 16 points, it’s pretty clear that voters knew what they were doing. Personhood USA is just a group of sore losers. The evangelical Christian group began the personhood fight in Colorado, where personhood ballot measures were rejected by voters twice.

So why did voters reject these measures? Personhood measures are pushed by fundamentalist religious groups who seek to ban abortion, thereby forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies against their will because according to them, their religion requires it. Such measures infringe on the religious freedom of women who practice different religions or none at all. So Personhood USA is violating the religious rights of others.

Personhood measures are also very controversial because they could ban many forms of contraception, threaten doctors with legal consequences, and hamper in-vitro fertilization. Personhood USA denies this, but experts in the medical and scientific fields say otherwise.

In the run-up to the vote on the 2011 personhood measure in Mississippi, Scientific American spoke with experts about the bill regarding how it would affect women’s health.

Opponents say that the wording of the amendment means that it could interfere with established medical practices. “If personhood begins at fertilization, then we have to talk about IVF and birth control,” says Jonathan Will, director of the Bioethics and Health Law Center at Mississippi College in Jackson. Some forms of contraception, such as the intra­uterine device and emergency hormonal contraceptive pills, prevent fertilized embryos from implanting in the uterine wall and so could be considered illegal under the amendment, experts say.

Fertility doctors add that the measure could hamper IVF and endanger the would-be mother and her offspring.

To give patients the best chance of pregnancy, doctors typically fertilize 8–10 eggs and implant only the one or two embryos that seem most vigorous. The rest are stored or discarded. If a doctor is forced to implant all fertilized eggs to avoid prosecution, then the patient is more likely to have multiple pregnancies, which can be risky for her and the fetuses. Yet limiting the number of embryos created for IVF to only the number of children desired reduces the chance of success and increases the likelihood that women will have to undergo the difficult and expensive procedure more than once.

But that’s not all. Personhood measures such as the one in Mississippi could be a legal mess and have even worse effects that could endanger women and the doctors who treat them.

According to an article about the 2011 initiative on Huffington Post,

The process of interpreting and implementing the amendment is likely to be complicated and fraught with legal challenges, considering the word “person” appears more than 9,000 times in the Mississippi constitution. The law would unequivocally ban abortion, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or life of the mother, but advocates on both sides argue about the legal implications beyond abortion. The initiative could be interpreted to ban emergency contraception as well as the regular birth control pill, which can both affect a fertilized egg’s ability to attach to the uterus. It could also complicate the legality of in vitro fertilization, which can result in a number of unused embryos, and stem cell research.

The “personhood” amendment raises other, murkier questions: If every fetus is considered a person, does this affect voter districting? Would a woman who is three weeks pregnant be able to claim her fetus as a dependent on federal tax forms, or in claims for government assistance? If a woman who doesn’t know she’s pregnant engages in some negligent activity that leads to a miscarriage, could someone prosecute her on behalf of the embryo?

The same can be said about Personhood USA’s current personhood initiative proposal because nothing has changed. It’s the exact same measure. And considering the fact that the Republican Governor of Mississippi and the Republican dominated state legislature have demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that they intend to ban abortion in the state, lawmakers certainly can’t be trusted to create legislation to enforce the initiative should it somehow pass. Contraception has been a constant target of Republican lawmakers in several states and in Congress who seek to ban it on religious grounds. The GOP has also supported anti-abortion legislation that has no exceptions for rape, incest, and saving the life of the mother. Some red states are even considering bills that would require the arrest of doctors who perform abortions. If measures like these can be considered and passed in other states, a successful personhood measure in Mississippi would almost certainly mandate similar legislation.

The measure still has far to go before it would be presented to voters. The Hattiesburg American states that,

The attorney general’s office must prepare a ballot title and summary for the new initiative, which could take a few weeks. Once that’s done, the initiative’s sponsors would have one year to gather at least 107,216 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. That means the earliest likely date for a vote would be in November 2014, when there are congressional elections, or November 2015, coinciding with the next governor’s election.

So mark your calendars, because in 2014 or 2015, a fierce battle between women’s rights and religious fundamentalism could take place in Mississippi once again.