Pro-Choicer Applauds “Personhood” Vote
posted at 8:46 pm on October 28, 2010 by Dafydd ab Hugh
The good rednecks in Mississississississippippippi (I never know where to stop!) have an astonishing, utterly original idea that nobody seems ever to have thought of before: Rather than debate the extent of a woman’s “right” to abort a zygote/embryo/foetus, they first want to settle whether that entity is a legal person:
A traditional-values group is jubilant at the renewed likelihood that Mississippi voters — among the most pro-life in the nation — will have a “personhood” measure on their 2011 ballots….
Measure 26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to say that “the term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
I think the theory is that, at whatever point the entity becomes a legal person (fertilization or later, as the state initiative specifies), aborting it is killing a person and can only be justified on grounds that would justify killing someone who had already been born (perhaps only to save the life of the mother). One presumes a determination that the entity was a person would also turn an assault that led to miscarriage into a homicide.
The flip side, of course, is that before reaching the personhood-point, the entity is not a legal person; it does not have a “right” to life; and it can be legally aborted for much lesser cause, perhaps even for convenience.
Of course, Misisipi (is that too few?) notwithstanding, a “personhood” initiative need not specify fertilization as the point at which personhood obtains. A state initiative could specify some other point of gestation instead; some other, not quite so anti-abortion group could put a measure on the ballot to declare that personhood began at the beginning of the third trimester, or when it reached some particular developmental stage. (My personal preference is that the foetus becomes a person when the cerebral cortex activates, which should be detectable in each individual case, if absolutely necessary, via a PET scan.)
In Colorado, for example, abortion prohibitionists tried a similar initiative two years ago, Colorado Amendment 48; it was crushed at the polls by 46 points, 73 Nay to 27 Yea. But an initiative that set personhood to begin at some defined later point in the pregnancy might have a much better chance of passing in a less-conservative state like Colorado or California, Florida or Washington, New York or New Mexico. I suspect most folks are more comfortable defining personhood as occuring later than conception — but long before the eighth or ninth month, possibly even before the third trimester.
My point for decades — ever since Roe v. Wade, actually — has been that both sides are fighting the abortion wars bass-ackwards; instead of pushing for laws banning abortion or court cases declaring abortion a sacrament, we should begin with first principles:
- You first must decide at what point of gestation, between conception to birth, the growing entity becomes a legal person.
- The personhood decision can only be made via a vote by the peoples’ representatives in the legislature or by the people directly by referendum.
- The personhood point must be written into the state constitution, not merely the state code, to prevent state judges from simply throwing it out at whim.
- It must pass muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, so that local federal district and circus courts cannot throw it out, either.
- After which, abortion and every other related question will simply fall out without tears from the personhood determination.
But wait… If each state can pass its own personhood amendment setting a unique point where the entity becomes a legal person, and if some states can decline to pass any personhood initiative or bill at all, then won’t a disparity exist from state to state on the legality of abortion? You might have a case where a girl could get a abortion in one state but not in another.
Why yes, Poindexter, it will; but that’s a feature, not a bug: It’s the essence of federalism. If somebody doesn’t like the personhood declaration in his state and the abortion and assault laws it yields, then he can move. Just as he can move if he doesn’t like the taxes in his state, or the way the state and local law-enforcement authorities handle drug cases, or the policy of his state on health insurance, energy, water, welfare, banking, business licences, or having to use a “jug handle” to make a bleeping left turn (hello, Garden Staters!)
There are no internal passports required; if you don’t like your local laws, move to a different locality. And if you are a sexually active female under the age of consent, and you live in a state like Mxyzptlki that declares a zygote to be a legal person, thus banning abortion — then perhaps you should rethink your social relationships, at least until you’re old enough to move to Colorado, or somesuch.
So even though I would personally vote against Mrs. Hippie’s Measure 26, since I don’t believe one fertilized cell constitutes a legal person, I applaud the fact that the state is trying to define personhood first, before embarking on a campaign to end abortion. On one of the great moral arguments of our society, the rest of the United States should look to Mississippi. (There, see? We may veer back and forth; but we always comes our right in the end.)
Everything is back to norbal.
Cross-posted to Big Lizards…