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Part 3:

2011: Mississippi Proposition 26: Personhood amendment.
Comments by individuals & organizations, Cont'd.

2018: Mississippi creates law to ban abortions after 15 weeks.
Law temporary overturned by a federal court.

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This topic is a continuation from Part 2

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Comments by individuals and organizations who supported and opposed the amendment (Continued):

  • "Will", a legal expert, said: "The concern is that you could have local prosecutors that as soon as this amendment goes into place would say 'OK, well clearly this is the policy the people of this state want, so now I'm going to use our code to investigate miscarriages and in-vitro fertilization."

  • The Mississippi Baptist Convention, the largest Christian denomination in the state, strongly supported the amendment through its lobbying group. 1

  • The bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi and the General Conference of the United Methodist Church opposed Proposition 26.

  • Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Latino of the Diocese of Jackson issued a statement that neither supported nor opposed the amendment.

  • The Mississippi State Medical Association also took a neutral stance. Doctors Against MS 26 and other medical associations opposed it. 1

  • Jonathan F. Will, director of the Bioethics and Health Law Center at the Mississippi College of Law, questioned whether the voters could understand the full implications of the amendment. He said: "My first thought, literally, was people aren't going to understand what this means ... what implications it has beyond abortions." 2

  • Terri Herring is the national director for the Pro-Life America network and an advisory board member for the state group Yes on 26. She said:

    "In Mississippi, we have the opportunity to lead the way on a social justice issue. We may have been behind on civil rights, but we can be ahead on human rights, and that's what personhood is really all about. ... If a woman was attacked and her unborn child was killed, it would be fetal homicide. That is considered a person. But on that very same day in the same area, a woman could go and have an abortion and kill her child, and nothing would happen.

    So we have a contradiction, and that is what we're trying to fix here. ... We're trying to say there is another way besides abortion, that there can be a home for every child. Not every unwanted child has to die. There are over a million couples waiting to adopt. It's time to stop the senseless killing of children. We can provide these children, if people don't want them, to all of those who cannot have children themselves and stop the rush of people going to Russia, China and other areas to get children. ... [Those opposed to Proposition 26 should] stop the fear-mongering and the tactics that are just talking about outrageous things that we do not believe will happen. ... This is really about saying, 'What did our forefathers intend when they used the word "person"?' I think very clearly, there is no way that long ago they had any intention of not including the unborn as a person. So in my mind, this is a historic vote, and it provides the people to have a voice in protecting life." 2

  • Susan Jacoby, writing as "The Spirited Atheist" for the Washington Post commented:

    "This amendment, to be voted on Nov. 8 in Mississippi, goes far beyond the familiar claim of anti-abortion activists that the fetus is a person (an assertion explicitly rejected in Roe v. Wade). The medical definition of a viable pregnancy has always been the point at which a fertilized egg is implanted in a woman’s uterus. Many long-established forms of contraception, including the IUD, work by preventing implantation."

    "Then there are potentially fatal accidents of nature, in which the egg, instead of proceeding to the uterus, becomes stuck in one of the fallopian tubes in what is called an ectopic pregnancy. The embryo can never develop into a live birth and the ectopic pregnancy must be ended or the tube will rupture and the woman will die. Before there were blood tests to reveal the failure of an egg to implant normally, most women did die from ectopic pregnancy. One of the obvious dangers of this amendment would be the prosecution of doctors for performing a standard life-saving procedure. We are talking here about a medical measure to save the life of a real person, not of a group of cells that can never become a person because nature has made an error. ..."

    "Proposition 26 strips away the pretense -- which all anti-abortion groups try to maintain  -- that ordinary birth control, practiced by Americans of all faiths, would not also be affected by declaring the 'personhood' of every embryo. The leaders of these groups are well aware that most Americans, including those who oppose abortion, regard birth control in quite a different and positive light."

    "This proposal is so extreme, in fact, that it has split the anti-abortion movement. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Right to Life Committee -- neither of which could be called 'soft on abortion' -- are not supporting the amendment because they think it would interfere with their efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade. Their fear is that even the current Supreme Court, with its conservative (and Roman Catholic) majority, might not uphold an amendment that would interfere with standard contraception and with surgery to save a woman from certain death."

    "But the usual suspects, the far-right Christian American Family Association and Family Research Council, are pushing the proposal not only with their voices but their money."

    "The amendment would of course also have a major impact on infertile couples trying to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization, since it would prohibit the destruction of any spare embryos stored in laboratories. It would also prevent the use of the 'morning-after' pill in all instances, including rape and incest." 3

  • We attempted to locate a statement on the Internet by either the Family Research Council or the American Family Association on Proposition 26 without success.

  • One News Now, a conservative Christian news source, published an article claiming that those opposing Proposition 26 were circulating lies about the impact of the amendment. It started by stating an error of their own:

    "If passed, Proposition 26 would outlaw abortion in Mississippi."

    In reality, Prop. 26 would not make abortions illegal because it conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision "Roe v. Wade" in 1973. Thus it would be clearly unconstitutional and could never be enforced.

    The article quotes Brad Prewitt, a "Yes on 26" spokesperson. He said:

    "Does it outlaw contraception? No; definitively, no. What it does outlaw is pharmaceuticals that act as a human pesticide of sorts, almost a chemical abortive agent, such as RU-486, that takes a conceived life and it kills that life -- you know, a confirmed pregnancy -- and you take that and you're going to kill that child."

    He did not discuss two other common contraceptive methods: the Morning After Pill and the IUD, both of which would be criminalized by Prop. 26 if it were ever found to be constitutional.

    He denied a claim by the opposition that would criminalize "doctors who perform life-saving surgeries on pregnant mothers." He is apparently referring to abortions performed on women with ectopic pregnancies. Since such surgeries kill the developing embryo, it would seem that Prop. 26 would criminalize the procedure. By not being able to perform life-saving surgeries, both the embryo and woman would certainly die.

    Finally, the article discusses allegations that miscarriages would be criminalized. This appears to be a mischaraterization of the opposition's statement. The latter suggested that criminal investigations might be mounted in the case of a miscarriages in order to confirm that it occurred due to natural causes and was not induced manually by the woman using a coat hanger. 4

    OneNewsNow appended a YouTube video to the article titled "Will Personhood Ban Contraceptives?" In it, Dr. Freda Bush allegedly addresses accusations against Prop. 26. But Ginny Lindley Leonard posted a comment to the article saying that: "... all the video provides is a doctor saying that the 'accusations' are untrue! Where is the explanation?" We are initially unable to verify her concern because playing the video produces only an error message stating" "This video is private."

    However, accessing the video directly on YouTube.com is still possible:
  5

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2018-FEB to MAR: Mississippi House and Senate passed a bill to ban most abortions after 15 weeks gestation.

State Rep. Becky Currie, (R-MS) is the main sponsor of the bill HB 1510, the "Gestational Age Act." It would ban abortion of fetuses that are estimated to be over 15 weeks gestational age. The original version of bill was passed by the state House on 2018-FEB-02 with a vote of 79 to 31 -- a 72% majority. The state Senate amended the bill and passed it on 2018-MAR-08 with a vote of 75 to 34 -- a 69% majority. It was then returned to the House for a final vote.

Dr. Jameson Taylor, acting president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, said:

"The rest of the civilized world understands the severe health risks entailed by late-term abortions that occur after the first trimester. ... This is a commonsense approach to protecting maternal health and protecting the life of the unborn. ... HB 1510 is supported by faith-based and pro-life organizations across the state. ... Recent polling (January 2018) indicates the vast majority (76%) of voters support commonsense laws regarding abortion, with a limit after the first trimester being one of the preferred options." 6

Pregnancy is usually measured in weeks from the woman's last menstrual period (LMP). The first trimester concludes at the end of the 12th week. 20 weeks is the half-way point through the second trimester. 7 House Judiciary B Committee Chairperson Andy Gipson (R) said:

"By 15 weeks, you have a child in the womb who has a heartbeat, who for all practical purposes has taken on the form of a person."

However, researchers have generally concluded that fetuses first become sentient and are able to sense their environment, pain, etc. only about the 24th week gestation. Many people believe that this is when human personhood begins. On the other hand, many religious conservatives sincerely believe that sentience occurs earlier; some believe that personhood starts at conception when an ovum is fertilized, and a one-cell zygote is produced.

If HB 1510 becomes law, it will be the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S. Its constitutionality is certain to be challenged in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court -- in its Roe v. Wade decision during 1973, and its later revisiting of the matter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey during 1992 -- recognized a woman's right to choose freely to have a pre-viability abortion.

Viability is a moving target. It is now generally regarded as being attained at about 23 weeks gestation when newborns typically have a 39% chance of survival if born in world-class facilities. However, with advances in medical science, this age is being reduced. James Elgin Gill is the youngest human fetus to survive. He was born in Ottawa, Canada during 1988 at the gestational age of 21 weeks and 5 days. He is now healthy and in college. 8

If and when artificial wombs are developed for human fetuses, then viability could occur much earlier in pregnancy. However a current ban on abortions at 15 weeks and later appears to violate past Supreme Court rulings, and is thus very likely to be declared unconstitutional by the courts.

Professor of law, David Forte, Cleveland State University in Ohio said that the Mississippi measure:

"... seems like a pretty simple bill designed to test the viability line that the Supreme Court has drawn."

Katherine Klein, the equality advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said:

"The 15-week marker has no bearing in science. It's just completely unfounded and a court has never upheld anything under the 20-week viability marker. ... We expect that this bill will be challenged in court and it will lose and, in the process, Mississippi will lose thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars [in legal costs]."

Jameson Taylor, acting president of the anti-abortion group Mississippi Center for Public Policy, said:

"We're thrilled that Mississippi lawmakers are taking a step to protect the basic right to life, as well as protecting maternal health." 9

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2018-MAR-19: Bill HB 1510 becomes law:

The House passed the final version of the bill by a vote of 80 to 31 on FEB-02. The Senate passed it 35 to 14 on MAR-06. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the bill into law. This made Mississippi the only state to have a date restriction on almost all abortions that is this early: 15 weeks, or less that 3.5 months. Exceptions to the law will be permitted only in cases of "medical emergency." That is defined as a physical complication threatening the woman’s life or "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function;" or "severe fetal abnormality." The latter is defined as a physical condition that renders the preborn baby "incompatible with life outside the womb."

The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest.

The Governor commented that the law will help bring Mississippi closer to his goal of making the state:

"... the safest place in America for an unborn child."

The Guttmacher Institute, notes that 17 states ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but none of them had banned abortions any earlier in pregnancy until now.

However, the law conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, which requires states to allow abortion much later in pregnancy. Diane Derzis, owner of the Women’s Health Organization -- the only abortion facility in the state -- said:

"We will be planning to sue." 10

She followed through with her threat, by filing a lawsuit within an hour of the Governor's signing the bill. The lawsuit states, in part:

"Under decades of United States Supreme Court precedent, the state of Mississippi cannot ban abortion prior to viability, regardless of what exceptions are provided to the ban."

It also says that the organization performed 78 abortions after 15 weeks during 2017. This was about 3% of Mississippi’s total number of abortions that year.

Less than 24 hours after the Governor signed the bill into law, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves granted a temporary injunction against implementation of the law. He said that the law "draws the line" after which abortions are restricted too early in pregnancy. Women are permitted to choose to have an:

"... abortion before viability. ... States cannot 'prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision' to do so." 11

This case is expected to be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. With the present court makeup, the Court would most likely declare the law unconstitutional by a 5 to 4 majority. However, there are rumours that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has generally ruled pro-choice on abortion cases, is planning to retire shortly. President Trump would probably appoint a very conservative Justice in Justice Kennedy's place. This would probably swing the Court's votes to 5:4 against abortion access, as well as equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons, etc.

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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. Mallory Simon, "Mississippi voting on 'personhood' amendment," CNN, 2011-NOV-08, at: http://articles.cnn.com/
  3. Susan Jacoby, "Mississippi ‘personhood’ amendment takes aim at birth control as well as abortion," The Spirited Atheist column, Washington Post, 2011-NOV-02, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  4. Charlie Butts, "Confronting lies about personhood measure," One News Now, 2011-SEP-26, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  5. Dr. Bush's video is online at: http://youtu.be/
  6. Claire Chretien, "BREAKING: Mississippi state house votes to ban abortion after 15 weeks," Life site News, 2018-FEB-02, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/
  7. "Roe v. Wade," Wex Legal Dictionary, Legal Information Institute, undated, at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/
  8. Cheryl Bird, "World's Smallest and Youngest Preemies," Very Well web site, 2018-JAN-04, at: https://www.verywell.com/
  9. Jeff Amy & Sarah Mearhoff, "Mississippi close to having most-restrictive abortion law," Associated Press. Article no longer available online.
  10. Bill Bryant, "Mississippi enacts strongest pro-life law in the country," Life Site News, 2018-MAR-19, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/
  11. Calvin Freiburger, "Judge temporarily blocks Mississippi law banning abortion at 15 weeks," Life Site News, 2018-MAR-20, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/


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Copyright © 2012 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2012-FEB-21
Last updated 2018-MAR-20
Author: B.A. Robinson
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