On November 8, Mississippi residents will vote on a constitutional amendment to change the legal definition of personhood to include fertilized human eggs. Yes, you read that correctly: Mississippi might vote to outlaw all abortions (including those resulting from rape or incest), many forms of birth control (including IUDs and morning-after pills), and embryonic research. You can read more about this issue in today’s edition of the New York Times.

Philosophically speaking, the amendment is absurd. Personhood is typically granted to beings that have some degree of sentience, self-awareness, or agency. Fertilized human eggs clearly lack all three, as do fetuses until at least 28 weeks.

Legally speaking, while the amendment will likely pass, it will almost certainly be shot down in court — which has kept even some religious conservatives from supporting it:

Many leaders of the anti-abortion movement fear that the strategy will be counterproductive. Federal courts would almost surely declare the amendment unconstitutional, said James Bopp Jr., a prominent conservative lawyer from Terre Haute, Ind., and general counsel of National Right to Life, since it contradicts a woman’s current right to an abortion in the early weeks of pregnancy.

“From the standpoint of protecting unborn lives it’s utterly futile,” he said, “and it has the grave risk that if it did get to the Supreme Court, the court would write an even more extreme abortion policy.”

Bishop Joseph Latino of Jackson, Miss., said in a statement last week that the Roman Catholic Church does not support Proposition 26 because “the push for a state amendment could ultimately harm our efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade.”

Yet this fight does not begin and end with Mississippi. Similar legislative moves are being discussed in half a dozen other states, including Florida and Ohio. Furthermore, the “personhood” movement is just one small part of a larger battle being waged by reproductive rights foes:

The approach, granting legal rights to embryos, is fundamentally different from the abortion restrictions that have been adopted in dozens of states. These try to narrow or hamper access to abortions by, for example, sharply restricting the procedures at as early as 20 weeks, requiring women to view ultrasounds of the fetus, curbing insurance coverage and imposing expensive regulations on clinics.

Many of those laws have been overturned in the courts, but defenders of reproductive rights should not get complacent. So long as there are enough Americans who think abortion is morally deplorable, there will be legislative battles like the ones above. And since the moral landscape is not set for rapid change, reproductive rights defenders should remain vigilant.

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