Green Room

Pro-Choicer Applauds “Personhood” Vote

posted at 8:46 pm on October 28, 2010 by

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:

  1. You first must decide at what point of gestation, between conception to birth, the growing entity becomes a legal person.
  2. The personhood decision can only be made via a vote by the peoples’ representatives in the legislature or by the people directly by referendum.
  3. 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.
  4. It must pass muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, so that local federal district and circus courts cannot throw it out, either.
  5. 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

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You have an interesting moniker: is it a play on arabic?

I always appreciate pro-choicers who are against judicial anarchy, which is what Roe and other decisions have brought about. The big thing about this is that it’ll pass in MS. There are hardly any pro-choicers in the state, a majority of African-Americans are even pro-life. When this amendment does pass, it’ll be sued out and head to the 5th circuit. This is the most critical thing: the 5th circuit is the most conservative circuit court and will probably delivery a ruling saying Roe should be overturned. With Kennedy falling out with liberals, he might just switch.

TimTebowSavesAmerica on October 28, 2010 at 9:05 PM

I thought it was Mrs. Ippy?

I like the article, and I agree that “person” needs to be better defined legally. I think the “moment of fertilization” would cause problems (what about IVF treatment… would it be murder not to implant ALL fertilized eggs?), but that’s something to be hashed out by debate.

malclave on October 28, 2010 at 9:21 PM

You have an interesting moniker: is it a play on arabic?

TimTebowSavesAmerica on October 28, 2010 at 9:05 PM

Welsh, I believe. Correct me if I’m wrong, Daf.

gryphon202 on October 28, 2010 at 10:51 PM

You first must decide at what point of gestation, between conception to birth, the growing entity becomes a legal person.

Dafydd, my response to your argument is that this very notion concedes a major point to the pro-abortion side that need not be conceded because it is false. Namely, that there is some debate about when a human life begins.

When liberals rant and rave about abortion, they try to claim that the beginning of life is unknown, or unknowable, or depends on your religion. They try to claim that you’re trying to force your religion onto them. But that’s simply not true. You and I and everyone else who’s had basic high school biology knows when and how a human life begins. There is no debate about this. The science, as Al Gore might (never) say, is settled.

The purpose of their line of argument is to distract from the real questions: What value do you place on human life? What actions are you willing to take to protect that person’s right to life? What are you not willing to sacrifice to protect that life?

The people in Mississippi are voting on a truism in order to empower their law enforcement agencies. What you propose is something different: to legitimize the claim that the beginning of human life is an unknown that we can all have our own opinions about.

joe_doufu on October 29, 2010 at 12:36 AM

If we can protect fertilized eagle eggs and turtle eggs, seems an itsy bitsy leap to protect fertilized human eggs. After all, if we don’t, I doubt the eagles and turtles are going to protect us.

Robert17 on October 29, 2010 at 7:34 AM

It’s the essence of federalism.

it would be even better if roe v wade were overturned so that states could just pass laws outlawing or allowing abortion as they choose. now that’s FEDERALISM.

chasdal on October 29, 2010 at 8:35 AM

I agree with Joe, above.

I might also point out that this is a _very_ slippery slope to start down. Sure, it helps the abortion argument, and I agree with you, Dafyddh, that an agreement on personhood can help the debate (subject to what Joe said above).

What happens when someone decides to pass a law saying that ‘legal personhood’ starts at, oh, 6 years after birth? In effect, that toddlers 4 years old are not ‘human’? (I have received these arguments from pro-abortion people.)

Instead of being a liberal country, we have now backslid to (at best) the Roman days where the paterfamilias could kill his children if they disobeyed him.

Well, I guess that’s better than now, when we live in a Carthaginian state that sacrifices their children to the god of their own convenience.

Carthago delenda est.

Scott H on October 29, 2010 at 4:40 PM

MS has already essentially outlawed abortion, with one heavily regulated clinic in the entire state. This bill will seek to define personhood at conception.

If conception is the dividing line, then birth control pills will be illegal too. The Pill does not prevent fertilization (conception), it prevents attachment in the womb.

How far down this slippery slope do you want to travel?

GnuBreed on October 31, 2010 at 12:14 PM