Why “Personhood” Failed In Mississippi

As LifeNews.com reported earlier today, Mississippi became the second state to “reject a personhood amendment that would have put the state on record as defining human life beginning at conception.”

This legislation, known as initiative 26, or i26, has revived the decades-old debate between so-called incrementalists, or pro-lifers who favor any laws that move toward ending abortion, and those who want the whole shebang done in one fell swoop. Pro-life attorneys warned supporters of the personhood amendment that even were it to pass, it would have been challenged and probably defeated at the state court level as an unlawful attempt to modify or ban parts of the Bill of Rights.

This is the problem. As long as the decision (Roe v. Wade) that makes abortion a “right” stands, pro-life legislation is going to continue to be hampered and defeated in the courts, because Roe makes abortion a constitutional right. As Steven Ertelt observed recently, “While defining human life beginning at conception or fertilization is… fine, if pro-life advocates truly want to end abortion, [the] strategy of changing the Supreme Court via changing the presidency and makeup of the Senate is the only avenue to ban abortions and the only objective pro-life advocates should be focusing on over the next 12 months. When the Supreme Court has a majority ready to overturn Roe, then and only then will it be possible to promote abortion bans or Human Life Amendments that have the ability to truly ban abortions.”

This is an issue that leaves pro-lifers torn. Is it a good idea to pour our time, energy, heart, and soul into personhood amendments, sonogram laws, and other legislation when odds are great the courts will see to it that all or part of the legislation is enjoined or repealed?

It’s a given to pro-lifers that the human embryo is a person. If it weren’t, we’d all be doing something else with our time. Anti-lifers deny it by making preposterous anti-science claims, or, in the case of this Washington Post writer, calling a personhood amendment preposterous because a woman can’t know right away if she’s pregnant, so in order to enforce a personhood law women would have to take pregnancy tests every day because the state can’t protect a human it doesn’t know exists. This is, of course, very silly. The whole point of a personhood amendment is to prevent the willfull killing of a human being in utero by procured abortion. Of course we don’t expect women to take pregnancy tests before they dye their hair or do jumping jacks (although I will point out in Texas us ladies have to take pregnancy tests before we get X-rays because it would cause harm to the baby… er, pardon me, inhuman non-person zygote.) After all, birth control is still legal…

Which is, of course, one of the reasons why i26 failed.

Someone close to me lives in Mississippi. He was driving home from work yesterday and saw University of Southern Mississippi students protesting i26 along a major thoroughfare. As usual, the protesters, by way of ridiculous signage, framed the debate as one between those who want women to be healthy and those who want to point and laugh at women while they die in the streets because they were raped by their fathers and couldn’t get access to birth control/condoms/IUDs/abortions.

Is it true that a personhood amendment could theoretically be used to outlaw certain types of birth control, such as the Pill, which can cause a very early abortion? Yes. Would it ever happen? No. It was highly doubtful the amendment would even end abortions, let alone birth control. So no worries, ladies. Continue to take that little pink pill, which is just as liberating as, oh, I don’t know, pornography and sex trafficking. Anything that makes a woman easier to use for pleasure and discard — abortion, strip clubs, birth control, calling pornography “free speech” — is not an avenue toward liberation. It’s degradation, packaged in a condescending pink compact and sold to you… Oh, wait, now it’s covered by insurance! And soon – by the taxpayer! This is exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, in a vitriolic tirade full of contempt for both pro-lifers and people of religious faith, Jacques Berlinerblau (no comment) in WashPo calls i26 a “hard Christian right” crusade. (Who is this hard Christian right? Am I the hard Christian right? Are you?) He calls us — I assume he’s talking about us, since most of us support the idea of personhood — the “most swashbucklingest social movement out there.” Congratulations, pro-lifers! We beat out even the Occupy movement, who are right now camping out in cities all over the world, having public sex, publicly defecating, disrupting commerce, and generally living in filth in the middle of the public square. If we are “swashbuckling,” what are they?

How on earth does trying to call an embryo a human person make you an extremist, while teaching eleven-year-olds about oral sex with braces is sound public policy? In the bizarro world of the Washington Post, this is the case. The very idea of personhood was berated by — ahem — Berlinerblau, but the same paper treated the NYC sex-ed scandal as apparently a non-issue, since all I found on the site was a brief, just-the-facts-ma’am blog entry, which still managed to be dismissive of parental concerns. Sure, the article admitted, the controversial website at issue “may be geared for a college-age person,” but it also includes helpful information about staph infections and stress relief! Oh, well, that’s okay, then. I don’t know about you, but I’m fine with my kids being taught about foot fetishes, “swinger’s” clubs, and the definition of “doggie style,” as long as they throw some other, non-insane info in there, too. Oh, and by the way, calling an embryo a human is ludicrous, swashbuckling, hard Christian right nonsense!

Personhood has been defeated in Mississippi, to the surprise, I’ll note, of the Mississippians I happen to know, who expected it to pass. But just because we’ve lost this battle doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to educate people about this most basic and essential tenet of the pro-life philosophy: that the human embryo is, unequivocally, a human being. Remember: “There is no more appropriate moment to begin calling a human ‘human’ than the moment of fertilization. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, because it would be a degradation of factual embryology to say it would be any other moment.” That is Dr. Fritz Baumgartner speaking, a real medical doctor who knows what he is talking about.

So don’t let the guy sitting behind you at Starbuck’s or the lady who does your hair say, “The thing is, nobody really knows,” or “Scientists still argue about…” That is simply not true. We know when life begins. Some of us just don’t like to think about it, or have trouble wrapping our heads around the fact that an embryo is human. It’s a failure of the imagination. We think because it can’t yawn or blink or drive to Wendy’s yet it’s not human. But it is. Or, I should say, he or she is.

So should we continue to work toward these laws, even the ones that may be defeated? Of course we should. I agree with Ertelt that we should make overturning Roe our top priority. But meanwhile, isn’t the whole point of our movement that every life is worthwhile? The personhood amendment may have failed in Mississippi, but if even one person learned about personhood, and began thinking of the human embryo as a person, who knows what kind of ripple effect that might have? If one of these incremental laws saves even a single life before it’s shot down by the courts, it was worth every effort.

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Kristen Walker’s writing can be found at Right Wing News , Eve’s Ransom, and New Wave Feminists. She is also a sometime Twitterer.

  • Tom

    This is why you will never win.

    “Mississippi became the second state to “reject a personhood amendment
    that would have put the state on record as defining human life beginning
    at conception.” – get your facts straight. The amendment was to define PERSONHOOD beginning at conception. The argument wasn’t over whether its human or not.

    “Continue to take that little pink pill, which is just as liberating as, oh, I don’t know, pornography and sex trafficking”  – nice one. Tell that to the multitides of women who use the pill, including happily married ones, even those who practised abstinence before marriage, and all those catholics who use it too.
    That statement is as obnoxious as marc john paul’s “The pro-choice movement shudders at the sound of ‘Happy Birthday’. No
    greater fear can be struck in the heart of the abortion industry than
    the sight of a 3-year old blowing out his candles” – puerile!

    Lies, hysterical bleatings and misrepresenting others will not deliver what you wish.

    • enness

      Oh, we are telling them, don’t worry.  I’ll be the first to tell them, since I was on it for years until I couldn’t stand it any more and had to get the hell off it.  I will not do it any more — the unnecessary hormones, the money to that particular industry.  You know they tested on poor Caribbean women without their informed consent, a couple of them died, and they adjusted the dose and kept going?  That when one lost its FDA approval they took the surplus of what wasn’t good enough for us and sold it to 3rd-world countries?  When I was able to confirm the stories about it not getting properly filtered out of the water system and screwing up fish, that was the last straw.

      • http://twitter.com/stevenblackcat Steven Black

        It was tested in the Dominican Republic, which is one country.  Not the entire Caribbean.  And how many women have died from being pregnant, against their own will? This all can go both ways.  It really can.  How many young children have been abused (sexually, emotionally, physically) by the very same CHURCH that claims to advocate on their behalf? 

        This isn’t about life.  It is about stopping women from enjoying sex the way men do.  And if you fail to see that, I am sorry.

        • Anadrs23

          I notice that those who foam at the mouth about abortion rights for women, only seems to care about women when doing so means, “I want pussy with to consequences that come  as a result of my actions.” Hey IDIOT: When we force women into motherhood we force MEN into fatherhood as well. THAT’S what scares you my dear.

          • Anadrs23

            I notice that those who foam at the mouth about abortion rights for women, only seem to care about women when doing so means, “I want pussy with NO consequences that come  as a result of my actions.” Hey IDIOT: When we force women into motherhood we force MEN into fatherhood as well. THAT’S what scares you my dear.

          • notimportant

            Women have a higher consequence in forced motherhood than men do in forced fatherhood. Be honest, pregnancy is no easy endeavor. It has long-term physical consequences that will affect her for the rest of her life, not to mention raising an unexpected (and possibly unwelcome) kid. Even if she chooses to put the baby up for adoption, she still has all those permanent health issues to deal with for the remainder of her life.

            All the guy has to do is cough up the cash. There’s nothing mandatory stating he must stay and help raise kids- even through the bad times. No, all he needs to do is send a check to cover the expenses of his kid only. Women truly get the raw end of the deal, and I can understand why many of them say “No thanks” to the idea of carrying a pregnancy.

            And before this devolves into “Then she should keep her legs closed!”…Most women do use some form of birth control, thinking that they’ve done their part in good faith to not get pregnant. Should the birth control fail, the women tend to feel that they are then justified to go for an abortion. The overall view being consenting to sex is not the same as consenting to pregnancy, and that there are more reasons to have sex than just for procreation.

            I know none of what I am saying will be palatable to any of you here, but that is the thinking from the other side. I can see and understand both sides, and can not support either side whole-heartedly as of right now.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-W-Boyd/730437673 Kevin W Boyd

           First, I’m not Catholic, so you really need to drop the thinking that it
          is only Catholics, following the Pope lock-step, who accept that
          abortion is murder and should be fought against, rather than being
          exalted as freedom.

          Second, my stance on abortion has absolutely nothing to do with stopping
          women from having or enjoying sex.  Your argument about allowing women to enjoy sex like men is NOT an argument for birth control, it is an argument for the type of social controls that once upon a time mandated that men support their lovers and children (Allowing men to act like beasts suggests that our solution is not to allow women to also).
          I suppose you think that marriage
          is an unendurable burden, and that is fine, don’t get married.  But
          humans are incapable (Outside of some pretty slick, and recent, and
          expensive, technological advances), of having children outside of sexual
          union.  And curiously, the typical result of sex requires a good deal
          of tending to, for about 1 1/2 decades. 

          The idea that marriages fail to produce good sex is laughable, take a
          close look at birth rates among Victorian Era Americans and English;
          they loved getting it on, with their spouses.

          And by the way, she didn’t she Caribbean “nations”, she said Caribbean
          women; which as you’ve noted is what Dominicans are.  Please pay better
          attention, if you are going to continue with this insufferable drivel. 
          Does it really matter if the “test subjects” were from one country or
          many?  They were not volunteers, they were lab rats.

  • enness

    The amendment would not have done what opponents claimed — maybe in theory and in principle, but not in reality.  Our society has no problem tolerating staggering logical inconsistencies; it’s simple facts that send everyone into a tailspin.

    • Tom

      The simple fact in this case is that most people don’t consider some unrecognisable zygote to be a person.

  • Anonymous

    ” Imagination governs the world.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte ~
    The “wise few” have failed to govern God, who is free. The humble few, governed by God, will inherit the earth, and they shall rule in Truth, which is not a something, but a Someone….a Person.” There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob.”~ G.K. Chesterton~ “Heretics” 1905Just because there are no perfect men doesn’t mean that there are no perfect thoughts.God is Love. Godly love limits choice; Godly choices expand happiness. We want to be happy; God wants us to be happy. Love God and then do what you will. There is no law against love. God is Love ; God is Free. What makes us American is Freedom.

  • http://twitter.com/stevenblackcat Steven Black

    If you’re saying that a zygote that has not implanted in a woman’s womb is as valuable as my 74-year-old grandfather that fought in two wars, you have been owned by the Mississippi electorate.  Sorry.  

    And the pill does not degrade women.  It gives women the opportunity to enjoy sex like men without being degraded/used as incubators for 9 months while men continue to be sexually promiscuous without consequence.  It has been embraced by a majority of U.S. women for that reason.  Idiot.

    • Anadrs23

      How do you determine whose life is more “valuable” than someone else’s? I am very curious. As for the latter part of your statement, there is this thing called forced CHILD SUPPORT my dear. 

    • Anonymous

      Gives women the opportunity to enjoy sex like men?  Translation:  Allows her to whore around and be used by a number of men!  As if THAT isn’t degrading!

      What is so degrading about pregnancy?  I am a mother.  I love being a mother.  My husband and I are each the only one the other has ever had, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

      • 12angrymen

        While it is wonderful that you enjoy motherhood, there are many women in this world who do not and would not. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-W-Boyd/730437673 Kevin W Boyd

      So let me get this straight, your grandfather is more valuable than my grandfather, who served in only one war?  Or my father, who chose to serve in the NJ Natl Guard during Vietnam?
      I perfectly understand that you have an attachment to your kin.  But you really ought to get outside of yourself for a moment and recognize that the worth of any single human is not determined by any single person’s valuation, much less YOUR valuation.

      The pill is not a solution to male promiscuousness, it is extra fuel on the fire.  Sorry to say, but such things were less common before Maggie Sanger convinced the scientists to develop it. 

      If you are truly interested in men receiving consequences for sleeping around, then let us address that, rather than removing them from women (Which clearly has pushed men into accepting greater responsibilities for siring children out of wedlock!).

      And allow me to suggest not insulting someone to whom you are responding to, unless you have something more to say, you are exposing your own vapidness.

      • Anon

        Oh lord, Kevin. He did not say that his grandfather was more valuable than yours. He is saying that an un-implanted zygote (because a zygote does have to implant for it to even start forming a human) is not more valuable than a human.

        Honestly you do not need to address men or women sleeping around. I think you need to stop thinking that you should address other people’s sexual habits. Do you have a degree in psychology sir? Oh. I didn’t think so. Also things were not less common before Margaret Sanger helped scientists to develop the pill. Can I see your sources on that? Oh. I didn’t think so. There are many historical references that you can find otherwise or even if you critically think or think logically. I mean if you think about how men would have MANY women prostitutes in the past, especially if they were rich. Or if you look at it even from a religious perspective. Why do people usually adopt the religion of their mother? Because a lot of the times men sleep around A LOT, are there for the kid and/or rape the women (COMMON tactic or war and/or raiding villages and still is). So the women took on full responsibility for the child and its religious upbringing and it got her religion. Also if you look at slavery for instance, how many of our African American population has some white in them because the “massa” decided to rape his women slaves while still going home to his white wife. This was NOT an uncommon thing.

  • http://twitter.com/dreadhelm Josh Craddock

    The “I’m pro-life but…” crowd are who caused it to fail. Barbour, Bopp, and Ertelt are the ones who let the perfect be the enemy of the good and actively worked to undermine its passage.

    • http://www.facebook.com/josh.brahm Josh Brahm

      Au contraire, Josh. It is the personhood leaders whom OPPOSE abortion bans that include a rape exception, bans that would immediately end 99% of abortions leaving us to rescue the last 1%. It’s the personhood leaders that let the perfect become the enemy of the good. 

      Ertelt is merely trying to help the pro-life movement abolish ALL abortion as soon as possible. Making sure a personhood amendment fails in at least one state in every election until we finally have a Supreme Court consisting of 5 justices willing to overturn Roe is the epitome of not learning from past failures.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steven.ertelt Steven Ertelt

      “Let the perfect be the enemy of the good?” Actually the only perfect
      way to end abortion has nothing to do with a personhood amendment, which has never banned abortions and won’t now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.ertelt Steven Ertelt

    Good points Kristen. The response to your concluding question is this: many states have personhood language on the books defining human life as beginning at conception. As I have noted, such language does nothing to end abortion. See http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/08/personhood-amendment-in-mississippi-likely-wont-ban-abortion/

    So giving pro-life people the false hope that a personhood amendment will “ban abortion” or “end abortion” as its sponsors claimed is a massive distraction from actual efforts to end abortion. The more of these losses at the polls we rack up on these amendments, the more disheartened the pro-life movement will become. We must rally behind, as you noted, the only avenue to end abortion:  change the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and uphold true bans on abortion.

  • Anadrs23

    Actually if there is a side that forces women to be incubators of life for mine months while men get to have responsibility-free sex is the pro-choice crowd. By saying my body my choice, you have effectively allowed men to say, “Yeah? Then it is YOUR problem.” Not every woman who says she is pro-choice will choose abortion for herself. If, they decide to carry the baby, then we cannot force men who abandon these women  into fatherhood, because it was her CHOICE. See how that works. Idiot.

  • Anadrs23

    It’s not like us prolifers tell women, “Yeah keep the baby- and men- abandon your responsibilities as fathers”… no my dear, we don’t do that. So stop spreading bullsh*t

    • Anon

      Yes, you might not do that, but at the same time just by telling a guy to take care of the baby, doesn’t mean it will happen. Goodness, common sense people.

  • Anon

    Can you please learn the history of women in America (that is subjugated to its own subjects in college institutions and not taught at all in history classes of high school and middle school)? Because at this moment you are not understanding or delving. Maybe ready the Margaret Sanger story.