Image by Thomas Hawk
Next month Mississippi voters will be asked to approve the “Life-At-Fertilization” amendment challenging Roe v Wade and likely to provoke a length court battle over the abortion issue nation wide. Supporters of the amendment say that plans are in the works for Ohio, Montana, Florida and Oregon to attempt to pass similar amendments.
The proposal being decided Nov. 8 has divided the medical community and bewildered some physicians.
“We feel like the docs and the patients are getting caught in the middle of a war between the anti-abortion folks and the pro-choice folks,” said Dr. Wayne Slocum, head of the Mississippi section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Groups against the amendment emphasize that supporters of the amendment are impose their religious beliefs on others.
Medical organizations and groups concerned with women’s reproductive health say defining life as beginning at conception will also define some common forms of birth control as abortion. It may also deter Mississippi physicians from performing in vitro fertilization because of legitimate fear of criminal charges if an embryo doesn’t survive.
The text of the measure proposes that the definition of “person” in the state constitution include “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
The campaign for the Mississippi initiative is using emotionally manipulative images of glowing fetuses’ in utero and chubby-cheeked newborns. Groups such as Personhood USA claim they are trying to end a sin that blights America.
While amendments of this sort will doubtless be deemed unconstitutional almost immediately – and therefore unlikely to be enforces – the precedent is dangerous enough. The attempt seems less about enforcement then about bringing another form of direct challenge to women’s reproductive rights.
Personhood USA and other groups supporting such legislation eventually want to amend the U.S. Constitution to say life begins at fertilization. This effort defies the fact that similar “human life” amendments have been introduced on the federal level repeatedly over the past 30 years and have failed.
Thad Hall, a University of Utah professor who has written a book about abortion politics, commented that making such statements is easier at a state rather then a national level.
“What you see here is a kind of difference between slowness and difficulty in policy changes on federal level … and the ease with which states can change public policy,” Hall said.
People concerned with women’s health contend that this type of amendment doesn’t just put an end to abortion. It has radical legal ramifications that will also ban birth control and in-vitro fertilization.
“There is the potential if this law is to be applied consistently, it will apply to all forms of birth control,” said Felicia Brown-Williams, outreach director for Mississippians for Healthy Families, a statewide anti-26 campaign.
This is a serious concern in a state with high rates of teen pregnancy and limited state funds to support these new families.