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Mississippi Votes Today on Personhood for Fertilized Eggs

November 8, 2011

Update: the ballot initiative was defeated, 58% to 42%. Kudos and thanks to everyone who worked in Mississippi to defeat this measure.

Today and tonight, Mississippi voters will go to the polls to determine whether a fertilized egg is a “person.” Initiative 26 would:

…amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.

There are any number of problems with this approach, among them:

  • It would make abortion illegal. Women will have abortions anyway, so either women or doctors or both could become criminals, women will have to go out of state even more than they already do (in a state with one abortion provider) – disproportionately affecting poor women, and/or women will have unsafe abortions in these kinds of conditions.

  • Emergency contraception, some IUDs, and even some “regular” oral contraceptives could become illegal if they prevent implantation of fertilized eggs. Most oral contraceptives *don’t* work mainly by preventing implantation, but they *hypothetically* could.
  • Potentially subjecting women who have miscarriages (also extremely common) to additional scrutiny, perhaps even including criminal investigation. I worry that women with citizenship issues or other legal concerns, or simply women who belong to groups routinely targeted for oppression, will forgo medical care during miscarriage for fear of such investigation. This is not far-fetched.

This is all aside from the fact that a *huge* percentage of fertilized eggs never implant, and there is no way to actually detect a fertilized egg. The medical definition of pregnancy involved an implanted, fertilized egg because a) implantation is *required* to establish and continue a pregnancy, and there are no detectable bodily changes (because there’s no pregnancy…) until implantation.

Similar efforts in Colorado and by a former HHS leader have already failed. Honestly, even if it passes, I don’t think it will hold – lawsuits are pretty much guaranteed, and the Center for Reproductive Rights has pledged to take it to court.

Loretta Ross points out that the initiative is likely to punish women of color much more so than white women, in Race, Class, and Rights in Mississippi: How A Reproductive Justice Campaign Can Save the Pill and Save the Vote:

Women of color will be the first and majority of the casualties of the Personhood Initiative if women are investigated for miscarriages. Mississippi already has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country. If the Voter ID Initiative passes, it is highly likely that the voters most affected will be voters of color. We know this in our guts. Now we have to believe it with our higher reasoning brains.

Loretta also asks, “To be heard, do black women have to bring Nina Simone back to sing her famous song about Mississippi?” I have to say, that’s the song that’s been running through my head ever since I heard about the initiative.

Further reading:
What Happens If the Mississippi Personhood Amendment Passes? – The Atlantic
A ton of coverage at RH Reality Check
What the Mississippi Personhood Amendment Can Teach Us About Organizing Around Reproductive Rights and Justice – Christine at Our Bodies Our Blog
Why a Fertilized Egg is Not a “Baby” – A Gardener’s Analogy – yours truly

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2011 8:09 am

    A Facebook friend of mine pointed out that it would also have a pretty profound effect on people wanting fertility treatment as well. I don’t see any way Mississippi could not consider it murder if someone had a fertilized egg implanted and it didn’t result in a viable pregnancy.

    Some of the techniques also include freezing fertilized eggs and lots of couples that undergo IVF keep some fertilized eggs in frozen storage in case they want to try again to have children later.

    • November 9, 2011 8:11 am

      I could definitely see that being an effect, and saw a few others mentions it, but I know less about it. I do think you’re right that all those frozen fertilized eggs suddenly had become “people.”

  2. December 1, 2011 12:16 am

    Pro-Life Here – I’m not sure if this passed but it really needs to. I live in Colorado and was shocked that no one seemed to have interest and let this fall through. :(

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