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2011: Mississippi Proposition 26: Personhood amendment

Part 2: Implications. Religious factors.
Comments by individuals & groups about Prop. 26.

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This topic is a continuation from Part 1

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Implications of the amendment:

If Proposition 26 is passed, it could have numerous major implications in the lives of women:

  • Abortions: All abortions could be looked upon as murdering a human person on the part of the doctor, entering into a contract murder by the woman, and/or entering into a conspiracy to commit murder by staff at the clinic. This would include abortions at all stages of gestation, from those abortions early in the pregnancy, to the extremely rare D&X procedure (commonly called a Partial Birth Abortion).

  • Hormone birth control pills: This medication normally suppresses ovulation -- the ejection of an ovum from one of a woman's two ovaries. However, if ovulation has already happened, it suppresses fertilization. If fertilization has already happened, it can interfere with the implantation process in the wall of the uterus. In the latter case, a woman could be looked upon as murdering a human person.

  • IUDs: These are birth control devices whose precise method of operation is unknown. Most researchers believe that they allow ovulation and fertilization to take place, but cause the uterus to reject the pre-embryo. If this is true, then a woman could be looked upon as murdering a human person.

  • In vitro fertilization: This is a treatment for infertility in which a number of ova are harvested from the woman, and fertilized outside her body by spermatozoa from a sperm donor. The pre-embryos are allowed to develop normally. Subsequently, a few of the healthiest are selected and implanted in the woman's uterus. The doctor may discard the unused embryos, in which case he could be looked upon as a mass murderer of multiple human persons. Alternately, he might have the unused embryos frozen for future use. However, some would not survive the freezing process and others would not survive being thawed. Again, he could be viewed as engaging in mass murder.

  • Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD): This involves allowing a zygote to multiply from a single cell at fertilization to a multi celled body. One cell is removed and tested for genetic defect(s). If a genetic defect if found, the zygote is discarded -- a move that could be considered murder of a human person.

  • Emergency contraception: This is basically a multiple dose of birth control pills that inhibit ovulation, prevent conception, or prevent implantation in the wall of the uterus, A woman taking Plan B or similar emergency contraceptive could be looked upon as murdering a human person.

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Religious factors:

Various faith groups have different concepts of when human life becomes a human person:

  • The Roman Catholic church teaches that human life becomes a human person at the time of "ensoulment" when the soul enters the body of the pre-embryo, embryo or fetus. Historically, the Church has taught a variety of timings for ensoulment up to 16 weeks into pregnancy. However, its current teaching is that the exact time when ensoulment occurs is unknowable. To be safe, it is assumed that it happens during the process of conception. Thus, they teach that any form of termination of the life of a pre-embryo, embryo or fetus is a grave moral sin.

  • Conservative Protestants generally believe that human life become a human person during the process of conception.

  • Others believe that human personhood begins:
    • When the pre-embryo attaches itself to the wall of the uterus;
    • When the embryo's heart starts beating; 
    • At quickening when the woman first detects movement by the fetus;
    • When the fetus begins to look human -- a subjective test;
    • When the higher functions in the fetal brain first turn on, and the fetus first becomes a sentient being that is conscious for the first time;
    • When the fetus is half emerged from the birth canal; or
    • When the newborn is separated from his or her mother and is breathing independently.

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Comments by Individuals and organizations who supported and opposed the amendment:

  • Haley Barbour (R), the governor in 2011, was unable to run for reelection because of term limits. He agonized over Proposition 26, but finally voted in favor of the amendment. He said:

    "Some very strongly pro-life people have raised questions about the ambiguity and about the actual consequences — whether there are unforeseen, unintended consequences. And I'll have to say that I have heard those concerns and they give me some pause." 1

  • The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a statement on Prop. 26:

    "The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) strongly believes that the autonomy of women to make personal health care decisions must be respected. As the nation's leading organization of women's health physicians, dedicated to all aspects of women's health, ACOG supports quality health care appropriate to every woman's needs throughout her life, including the full spectrum of clinical and reproductive services. Mississippi's 'Personhood Amendment,' Proposition 26, does not respect the autonomy of women and jeopardizes women's health. We urge the citizens of the State of Mississippi to reject this Proposition on [2011] November 8th. Proposition 26 substitutes ideology for science and represents a grave threat to women's health and reproductive rights that will have long-term negative outcomes for our patients and society.

    Proposition 26 defines the term person to 'include every human being from the moment of fertilization', which has wide-reaching implications that will impact access to women's health, including treatment for cancer, infertility treatment, birth control options, and pregnancy termination. This proposal unnecessarily exposes women to serious health risks and significantly undermines the relationship between physicians and our patients. The vague and overly broad terms in Proposition 26 will prevent physicians from providing the care vital to women's health.

    Proposition 26 must be defeated in the best interest of women's health." 2

  • Atlee Breland, 34, and her husband Greg used in vitro fertilization to conceive their 5-year-old twin girls. Atlee voted against the amendment because she was concerned that it could restrict fertility treatments for other couples in Mississippi. She said: "When I was 28-years-old, Greg and I were diagnosed with infertility. I don't want Mississippians to have to go Washington, D.C. or New York or California to have infertility treatment."

  • Hubert Hoover, 71, voted for Proposition 26. He said: "I figure you can't be half for something, so if you're against abortion you should be for this. You've either got to be wholly for something or wholly against it."

  • Amy Brunson, 36,voted against the amendment, in part, because she was once raped. In addition, some of her friends had used in-vitro fertilization, and she was concerned that this procedure might no longer be allowed in the state. She said: "The lines are so unclear on what may or may not happen. I think there are circumstances beyond everybody's control that can't be regulated through an amendment." 1

  • Christine Hemmins was concerned about the impact of Proposition 26 on herself, her daughters, and Mississippi families generally. She said:

    "Whether or not you believe life begins at conception, this amendment goes too far. It is too ambiguous. It seems so obvious to me that it is far-reaching and it is going to be big government getting all up in my uterus. ... Apparently, they thought they needed to find a place more religious and more conservative, so they headed down here. But this is big government going too far in the poorest state in the country, with the highest teen pregnancy rate, the highest STD rate. Let's focus on fixing those things. ... Talking about the [implications] is just being smart; it's not fear-mongering. You don't pass an amendment like this and not think about what it might mean. That is just reckless." 3

    It is ironic that social conservatives who, as a group, are most inclined to vote for this amendment are normally opposed to the intrusion of government into people's personal lives.

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This topic continues in Part 3

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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. "Mississippi's "Personhood Amendment" fails at polls," Associated Press, 2011-NOV-08, at: http://www.cbsnews.com/
  2. "ACOG Statement on Mississippi's "Personhood Amendment" Proposition 26," American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2011-NOV-07, at: http://www.acog.org/
  3. Mallory Simon, "Mississippi voting on 'personhood' amendment," CNN, 2011-NOV-08, at: http://articles.cnn.com/


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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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