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2011: Mississippi Proposition 26: Personhood amendment

Part 1: Summary. Wording. Meanings of some terms.

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Summary:

On 2011-NOV-08, citizens of Mississippi narrowly rejected Proposition 26 by a vote of 57% to 43%. If passed, it would have amended the state constitution to define human personhood as starting at conception. 1,2,3

If passed, the amendment would have been in direct conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade [410 U.S. 113 (1973)]. Actually, the intent of the Proposition's organizers was to eventually overturn that decision. The Justices ruled in 1973 that a woman has a legal right to have an abortion for any reason during the first trimester, that the individual state can place certain limitations on abortion during the second trimester, and more extensive restrictions on abortion during the third trimester. The ruling was based on the belief by a majority of justices at the time that the wording of the U.S. Constitution implies a right of privacy that limits the degree of intrusion of governments into the personal lives of citizens.

A public opinion poll in advance of the vote showed that those in favor and opposed to the amendment were in a statistical dead heat at about 43% each. However, when the actual vote was taken, 57% of the voters shied away from approving such an all-encompassing measure and voted against Proposition 26.

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Wording of the initiative:

  • Ballot title: "Should the term 'person' be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or equivalent thereof?"

  • Ballot summary: "Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word 'person' or 'persons', as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof."

  • Wording of the amendment:

    "Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi:
    SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hearby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ:
    Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”

    This initiative shall not require any additional revenue for implementation."

The amendment is correct when it states that no revenue would be required for the implementation of the amendment. However, it would have eventually generated numerous lawsuits that would have cost the Mississippi state government heavily.

The wording shows a profound lack of knowledge about fertilization. Fertilization is a processes that takes hours to complete. Thus there is no "moment of fertilization." It appears that the authors of the amendment may not have consulted medical experts before writing their document.

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The meanings of some terms involved in the amendment:

  • Spermatozoa (a.k.a. sperm) is the contribution to the fertilization process provided by a male. Under the microscope, they are seen to be great swimmers!
  • Ovum (a.k.a. egg; plural: ova) is the contribution to the fertilization process supplied by the female.

  • A photograph showing one very lucky spermatozoon of perhaps hundreds of millions of spermatozoon contacting an ovum:

Spermatozoon hitting an ovum 4

  • Human life: There are two definitions of that are in common use.

    • In some cases, both spermatozoa and an ovum are considered to be alive. Since they contain human DNA, they can legitimately be referred to as human life. A spermatozoon is already about a month old when it has the chance to encounter an ovum. An ovum is released from an ovary shortly before the encounter.

    • Some scientists use a very strict definition of "life" in which spermatozoa and ova are not considered alive. Only the zygote (a.k.a. pre-embryo or fertilized ovum) and subsequent stages are considered to be alive. Under this definition, to qualify for "life" it must fulfill "... four criteria needed to establish biological life:
      1. metabolism,
      2. growth,
      3. reaction to stimuli, and
      4. reproduction." 5

    Its reproductive ability is demonstrated only rarely, when it reproduces itself through twinning. This can happen at any time up to about 14 days after conception. This is how mono-zygotic (identical) twins are caused.

  • Pregnancy: Again, there are multiple definitions:

    • Medical science defines pregnancy as beginning when the pre-embryo has traveled down the fallopian tubes and attached itself to the internal wall of the uterus (a.k.a. womb).

    • Pro-lifers generally define pregnancy as beginning sometime during the process of conception (a.k.a. fertilization).

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This topic continues in Part 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
  1. "Initiatives - 26 Definition of a Person, Secretary of State, at: http://www.sos.ms.gov/
  2. "Petition for initiative measure to amend the Mississippi Constitution," at: http://www.sos.ms.gov/
  3. Emily W. Pettus, "Colorado's Failed Life-At-Fertilization 'Personhood' Initiative Lives On In Mississippi," 2011-OCT-17, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  4. "Spermatozoon," Wikipedia, as at: 2011-, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. Francis Beckwith, "Is the unborn human less than human?," ChristianAnswers.net, at: http://www.christiananswers.net/


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Copyright © 2011 & 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2011-NOV-08
Last updated 2012-FEB-22
Author: B.A. Robinson
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