Why It’s A Very Good Thing That Mississippi’s “Personhood” Ballot Initiative Failed

The Mississippi initiative that would have legally defined life as starting at fertilization has failed! I don’t care what your positions on abortion are: that it failed should be considered good news. “Personhood” amendments go so far beyond banning abortion that, frankly, I think they’re absurd. Keep in mind, please, that there is an immense difference between believing that life begins at fertilization and believing that life should legally be defined as beginning at the moment of fertilization (essentially that a human zygote is legally a person, the same as any person on the planet). 

As I’ve mentioned previously, personhood amendments would make people who use common forms of birth control, such as the pill and IUDs, liable to be charged with murder. Doctors who perform in vitro fertilization could also potentially be at risk for murder/manslaughter charges (criminal neglect?). Any miscarriage could be grounds for opening up a murder investigation. After all, legally, a person would have died.

Even if you believe a person has died when a fertilized egg has not made its way to being born as a human infant, are you really willing to give the police that much control over our lives? The mere idea of enforcing a personhood amendment — or even allowing that enforcement to be an option (because really, there’s basically no way that wouldn’t be done in a discriminatory manner) — is almost inconceivable to me. Virtually anyone with a uterus (maybe even anyone who appears as they they might have a uterus) could be at risk of being the subject of a police investigation for murder, manslaughter, neglect, child abuse, or quite possibly other crimes of which I can’t think right now.

Beyond that, having a zygote defined as a person could limit other people’s lives to a ridiculous extent. There are, after all, numerous things that pregnant people should not do, given that those activities could be harmful to the developing fetus: drinking alcohol, smoking, extreme and contact sports, being in saunas and hot tubs (due to the risk of overheating), taking certain medications. If someone were to engage in any such activities while pregnant, they could be considered to be risking harm to the developing person inside of them (negligence or worse).

Taking that one step further, how would police be able to tell whether or not someone is pregnant? Basically anyone who looks as though they might be capable of becoming pregnant (and, frankly, probably also a number of people who don’t look as though they could become pregnant) could potentially have a zygote/person within them. There’s no quick, easy, non-invasive way to tell whether a person is pregnant, which could conceivably give the police the excuse to arrest (or otherwise question) any female-appearing person of potentially child-bearing age who might be engaging in activities that could harm a fetus (drinking, smoking, jaywalking? Be creative).

Do I think that this would actually all come to pass — that the police would routinely arrest woman-presenting people who are, for example, sky diving, under charges of child endangerment? No, of course not. The point is that it could be legally allowed, even if it weren’t actually put into practice, and frankly, even the potential for that kind of policing frightens.

I’m not generally the type to make a slippery slope argument, but I think that this could be a very slippery slope. Legally determining life to begin at the moment of fertilization would make people open to such a range of (hopefully) unintended consequences that I couldn’t be in support of it, even if I did actually believe that life began at conception.

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2 responses to “Why It’s A Very Good Thing That Mississippi’s “Personhood” Ballot Initiative Failed

  1. You make all excellent points. Another thing to point out that I don’t think a lot of people realize is that the idea that life begins at conception is actually one that stems from Christianity, not science. So while I respect the right for people to believe that life begins at conception, just like I respect the right for people to believe that there is a greater power in the universe (myself included), those concepts have no place in policy. No one (expect for, perhaps, your own body) is forcing you to terminate a pregnancy against your will, but believing that the zygote in your body is a person, should have no effect on any theoretical zygotes in my body since I personally do not believe in that Christian idea.

    It should also be noted here that Judaism actually defines life as starting at birth, something that I do agree with from a spiritual perspective (feti have no essence, no soul), but because that too is a religious perspective, more scientific info regarding how developed a fetus is should have more of a say on political boundaries regarding the timing of abortions. Also, science points out that regardless of when a miscarriage occurs, it is simply not murder. Some might even say it is an act of God, like a natural disaster inside the womb…I’ve taken this too far, but the point is: people need to learn to separate their religious ideals from the rules and regulations that our government must enact to be applicable to every American. And I’d like to hope that the one thing we can all agree on is peer reviewed science. Unfortunately even that doesn’t seem to be the case….

  2. I read a history of abortion in America for a class on 21st century sexuality in the USA and found it interesting that 1. Abortion was legal in the USA for a long time before it was made illegal in the 1800s, and 2. It wasn’t until a woman felt movement of the fetus that it was considered “alive” and therefore any abortive actions taken before that time were not considered sinful or murderous within a Judeo-Christian moral framework, as life only began when the fetus started to move. It was only much later, with the advent of doctors taking over reproductive health care from individuals and midwives that the idea of life began to be extended backwards, despite evidence to the contrary.

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