State to decide if fertilised egg is a person

2011-11-05 16:42

The state of Mississippi on Tuesday could be the first in the US to define a fertilised egg as a person, a controversial concept aimed at outlawing abortion, some types of birth control and infertility methods that result in the loss of embryos.

The so-called personhood amendment to the state constitution represents a twist in strategy for anti-abortion rights efforts, which have notched great success across the country this year with dozens of new legal restrictions.

Proponents of the Mississippi ballot initiative said a win on Tuesday would bolster similar efforts geared for next year’s elections in states including Florida, Ohio and Colorado. They said it would help their ultimate goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 US Supreme Court decision making abortion legal.

“Mississippi is one step in a lengthy process,” said Jennifer Mason, spokeswoman for the Colorado-based Personhood USA organisation.

“We’re looking at a coordinated effort from many states in order to see real change in the United States.”

Critics of the Mississippi measure say defining a person as “every human being from the moment of fertilisation, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof” amounts to an extreme government intrusion that could effectively criminalise routine medical care and endanger women’s lives.

Opponents, including the state’s medical and nurses associations, have stepped up their criticism in recent weeks, leading to duelling news conferences and fact sheets presenting each side’s version of the likely effects of the action.

All agree the proposed amendment would ban abortion without exceptions for rape or incest victims and also outlaw some forms of hormonal contraceptives, though there is dispute over which ones.

Advocates say the initiative would not bar in-vitro fertilisation but would prevent unused embryos from being destroyed.

They argue critics have resorted to “scare tactics” in claiming doctors would be kept from performing life-saving treatments for women with medically complex pregnancies.

“It’s not really scare tactics. We’re really scared,” said Dr. Randall Hines, an infertility specialist in the Jackson, Mississippi, area. “This amendment represents the greatest moment of government interference in the delivery of health care that we’ve ever seen.”

Past ‘personhood’ votes failed
The two previous attempts to get voters to declare a fertilised egg a legal person were in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, and both efforts failed to pass by wide margins.

But the political climate has been friendly toward tightening abortion laws this year.

Eighty-four new restrictions became law, the most ever in such a short stretch, said Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health issues.

In Mississippi, a conservative and religious state with a single abortion clinic, backers of the personhood amendment collected more than 100 000 signatures from registered voters to get the initiative on the ballot.

The Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates each have pledged support for the amendment.

The initiative will probably pass but likely not withstand the anticipated legal challenges, said Marty Wiseman, director of the John C Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.

“Mississippi can’t negate Roe v. Wade, which this would do,” he told Reuters. But “who knows the twists and turns it is going to take before it is shot down by the Supreme Court.”

Though many faith leaders favour the amendment, the solidly anti-abortion rights Catholic Diocese of Jackson and other religious leaders have spoken out against it as an ill-advised approach that will either get struck down by federal courts or lead to a judicial reaffirmation of abortion rights.

“The unintended effect would very likely jeopardise current protections in state law and cause a loss of momentum in the ultimate goal of establishing full legal protection of the unborn from the moment of conception,” the diocese said in a statement.

Dr Freda Bush, a Jackson obstetrician gynecologist who has been a vocal proponent of the ballot initiative, said she hoped voters recognized that the measure would not disrupt the sound practice of medicine but instead would re-establish “a culture of life” in Mississippi.

“If we’re going to value life and protect life after it’s born, why not start at the beginning?” she said.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.