The North Dakota House of Representatives has passed the first personhood amendment in the United States, 57-35. Read more
In the News
On Nov. 8 Mississippi voters will decide whether a fertilized egg should be considered a “person,” a movement organized by Christian activist and “part-time farmer and tractor salesman” Les Riley who chairs an organization advocating for constitutional rights.
Riley’s proposed amendment to Mississippi’s state constitution, Measure 26, would define personhood as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
The conservative activist, who has 10 children, submitted the proposed initiative in 2009, gathering more than 100,000 signatures in support of the measure.
“The gay rights people say they’re the end of the civil rights movement — they’re it,” he said at a 2009 Tea Party rally where he plugged the petition. “The only people who don’t have civil rights in this country are the tiny people.”
“You cannot escape living in a religious society,” Riley told the crowd. During the speech he described President Barack Obama as a “boogeyman” and an “open socialist” and Bill Clinton as a “bad guy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit, arguing that the amendment would modify the Bill of Rights by defining what a “person” is, but the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed the initiative to stay on the ballot.
During the 2009 rally, Riley thanked anti-abortion activist Cal Zastrow, someone who was working “fulltime” to get the personhood amendment on the ballot.
“When he’s not doing that he’s down at the abortion clinic counseling mothers and when he’s not doing that he’s smuggling Bibles into communist countries,” said Riley, who was not immediately available today for comment.
Zastrow has also volunteered with the personhood campaign in Colorado, which was defeated by voters twice.
In Mississippi, however, the measure appears to have more support.
Riley currently serves as chairman of the Mississippi Constitution Party, an organization that believes, “The sole purpose of government, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, is to secure our unalienable rights given us by our Creator. When Government grows beyond this scope, it is usurpation, and liberty is compromised.”
Even so, the “personhood” amendment would create additional governmental control.
The proposition’s website, YesOn26, says the amendment would “stop the abortion industry in Mississippi” even in cases of rape or incest, because “women who have borne a child conceived in rape testify that the baby is a blessing.”
It would also challenge the Roe v. Wade ruling, something Riley considers “judicial tyranny.”
The 1973 Supreme Court decision was based on the Constitutional right to privacy in the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Critics worry the vague wording of the “personhood” amendment would carry serious implications, creating a rationale for banning certain types of contraception or making doctors subject to criminal prosecution.
But Riley dismisses those concerns as just another example of the “incredible opposition” posed by abortion rights advocates.
“[Pro-abortion groups] know Mississippi is among the most pro-life states & that we have put these convictions into action over the past two decades – closing six of the seven abortion mills that were in our state at one time,” Riley wrote in a 2010 article on website TheAmericanReview.com. “Now we only have one struggling abortion mill left in the state. Having worked to protect all children by love, we can now protect them again in law.”
I would like to comment on your editorial where you falsely stated that Amendment 26 would “criminalize miscarriages” (“Personhood: Initiative bad policy”).
Hopefully, most of your readers had enough common sense to see thru this outlandish accusation.
What is more troubling is that you would trade your journalistic oath for such an obvious fabrication.
While I support your freedom of speech, I will not grant you freedom to misstate the facts.
Much attention has been given to the hypothetical and misleading “unintended consequences” of Amendment 26, but let’s talk about the intended consequences of 26.
It will save lives that otherwise would be extinguished.
Can you think of an accurate “unintended consequence” that outweighs the known consequence of protecting these precious lives?
How arrogant it is for those of us who have life to refuse to advocate the same for those that come after us?
JACKSON, Miss. — The battle over Initiative 26, sometimes called the “Personhood” amendment, is heating up on the airwaves.
Voters will be asked to consider the initiative on Nov. 8. It asks whether the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof.
Opponents of the measure have launched a statewide billboard campaign, including some in downtown Jackson that claim the measure would make “birth control a lethal weapon.”
Both sides have been aggressive with TV commercials, too.
Dr. Freda Bush, an OBGYN and supporter of the initiative, is featured in one of the latest TV commercials. She said she disagrees with several in-state medical associations that have called the measure bad medicine.
“I do not agree with that and it really concerns me that the ‘unintended’ consequences and the what ifs would get so much attention, as opposed to the intended consequences,” Bush said.
Proponents said the intended consequence is to stop abortion.
“There are certainly other ways that could be written so we would not have these unintended consequences,” said Dr. Paul Seago, who opposes the initiative. “This is a bad bill. It’s bad for medicine.”
Proponents admit if the measure is passed it will require some enabling legislation from lawmakers to clarify it. Seago said that would open too many dangerous doors.
“My problem is one moment you say you are going to outlaw cloning and then the next moment you say that embryo has ‘personhood’ rights,” Seago said.
Bush said even though there is no cloning in the state, there is concern that cloning down the road could lead to harvesting cloned cells, or body organs.
“Before some bio-tech lab or someone gets that idea, we would like to shut that door,” Bush said.
Read the Nov. 8 Ballot Initiatives.
JACKSON, Miss. — A scientist who has worked for more than a quarter-century in reproductive medicine says a Mississippi ballot initiative could hinder the use of in vitro fertilization that helps some couples become parents.
An attorney who has defended the “personhood” initiative says the proposed constitutional amendment would show basic dignity to the tiniest human beings who are least able to defend themselves.
The scientist, Michael Tucker, and the attorney, Stephen Crampton, were among the participants in a panel discussion Tuesday night at Mississippi College School of Law. They debated Initiative 26, which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Nov. 8 Ballot Initiatives
The initiative asks: “Should the term `person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?”
Mississippi is the only state voting on a life-at-fertilization amendment this fall.
Tucker, who lives in Atlanta, has worked on in vitro in Mississippi and other states. He showed an enlarged video clip of a microscopic needle injecting a single sperm into a human egg through the procedure.
He said after three days, an embryo is made up of eight cells and is about the width of a human hair. He said although insemination can be seen in the lab, it’s not simple to pinpoint the exact moment an embryo has its own set of chromosomes. He said most embryos don’t survive, and a single embryo can split into twins during the first seven days.
“For me as a biologist, it’s very difficult to say, well, fertilization, is it a bolt from on high that occurs in a microsecond,” Tucker said.
Crampton works for Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based nonprofit group that opposes issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, and he has defended the Mississippi initiative from a challenge that sought to keep it off the ballot. He said he believes it’s important to define “person” in the law.
“There is a moment when the chromosomes from a woman and the chromosomes from a man unite and form a unique, new individual,” Crampton said. “The question, then, is simple: Is it fully human — is he or she fully human? And is he or she alive? The answer to both of those questions is emphatically yes. As a society, it becomes incumbent upon us to take steps to recognize that fact and then to implement laws to protect it.”
Crampton said he believes if the constitutional amendment passes, it would not automatically outlaw abortion in Mississippi. He said legislators might have to change specific laws.
Rebecca Kiessling, of Michigan, a family law attorney who supports the initiative, said if it passes, the state attorney general or a local prosecutor could announce the intention to start enforcing homicide laws by using the new definition of “personhood.” She said that likely would prompt a court battle.
“We would have to wait this out as it went up through the court system,” Kiessling said.
Amelia McGowan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said the word “person” appears in state law more than 9,000 times. She said if the amendment passes, “I think it will change the entire framework of state law.”
Glenn Cohen, a Harvard Law School professor who participated in the panel discussion by teleconference, said if the amendment passes, judges will have to interpret it and determine how it applies to Mississippi law and whether, for example, it would affect birth control, IVF or only abortion.
“Whether you are for or against abortion, whatever your position is, this is a bad amendment — not because of what it represents but because it is ambiguous,” Cohen said.
Tucker, the reproductive scientist, said he believes the proposed amendment “is clearly a wedge issue” to promote anti-abortion legislation. He said three clinics in Mississippi perform IVF.
“The ramifications it will have, needlessly, for infertility therapy will be massive and will lead to a tying up of the Legislature here in Mississippi above and beyond what anyone can imagine,” Tucker said. “The costs will be enormous, both emotionally and financially. Is this state prepared for that?”
Crampton responded: “What is the cost of failing to recognize and respect the basic human dignity, the right to life of the (most) innocent and least able to defend themselves among us?”
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
A ballot initiative in Mississippi could raise the stakes in the acrimonious American abortion debate. Proposition 26 affirms that personhood begins at conception. It seeks to add the following sentence to the state constitution: “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”
Its supporters want to use it to stop abortions. Its opponents claim that it will turn the death of any zygote into murder. In the words of the New York Times:
“[It] would ban virtually all abortions, including those resulting from rape or incest. It would bar some birth control methods, including IUDs and ‘morning-after pills,’ which prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. It would also outlaw the destruction of embryos created in laboratories.”
Political observers predict that Proposition 26 will succeed on November 8, since the pro-life movement has bipartisan support in Mississippi. The Republican candidate for governor is co-chairman of the Proposition 26 campaign and the Democrat candidate has declared that he will support it. A similar initiative failed in Colorado in 2008 and 2010 but its backers sense that the idea will catch on in more conservative states. Success could spark similar initiatives in Florida, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Wisconsin and other states.
The measure is radically different from anti-abortion laws which gradually restrict the scope of abortion, but without challenging Roe vs. Wade directly. A personhood amendment strikes at the heart of Roe vs. Wade by asserting that humanity begins at conception and not when the foetus becomes viable.
And this is why important pro-life groups do not support Proposition 26. Fundamentally they agree, but they fear that it is a grave strategic error. James Bopp Jr, of National Right to Life, told the New York Times: “From the standpoint of protecting unborn lives it’s utterly futile and it has the grave risk that if it did get to the Supreme Court, the court would write an even more extreme abortion policy.” The Catholic bishop of Jackson, Mississippi, Joseph Latino, says “the push for a state amendment could ultimately harm our efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade.”
Supporters of the amendment are more hopeful. They believe that the US Supreme Court might endorse the personhood of the embryo and that a win in Mississippi could galvanise a nationwide movement. ~ New York Times, Oct 25
featuring Rebecca Kiessling
The lead editorial in The Clarion-Ledger Oct. 16 (“Personhood: Initiative bad policy”) encouraged Mississippi voters to reject Initiative 26, known as the Personhood Amendment, at the polls on Nov. 8, stating, “any dispassionate, nonpartisan reading of the facts of the issue should lead voters to vote ‘no.’”
The basis for any valid argument is good logic, not the absence of passion and partisanship. The logical argument that an unborn child has a right to life begins with the scientific fact that human life begins at fertilization.
The idea of personhood and human are two sides of the same coin. Every time someone lessens the significance of personhood, they are at the same time diminishing the inherent rights of human beings.
Karen Saucier Lundy, nursing professor at University of Southern Mississippi, is typical of those who deny sound science and the privilege of being a God-created human being when she says in a recent online article, “How we define life and the meaning of life is personal.” Does that mean I have the personal right to define her personhood and whether she is worthy of existing? That is a chilling thought.
Opponents have resorted to misleading messages that are intended to incite fear and confusion. Don’t be fooled. The Personhood Amendment will not criminalize miscarriages, nor will doctors be subject to legal liability when saving the life of the mother. The common birth-control pill will still be available, as will in-vitro fertilization. Visit yeson26.com for the facts. Vote Yes on 26.
Christian Action Commission
The question of when life begins may be given needed clarity this November as voters in Mississippi are asked to render judgment on an initiative that would define “personhood.”
The amendment would, if enacted, add “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof” to the state constitution.
Mississippi citizens collected over 130,000 signatures, 40,000 more than were needed to qualify it for the Nov. 8, 2011 ballot.
According to Keith Mason, the president of Personhood USA—a group backing the initiative—its purpose “is to guarantee the equal and inalienable rights of every human being, no matter their age or any number of accidental characteristics such as race, gender, disability, or method of reproduction.”
The measure is drawing strong support across the state, with some polls showing an excess of 80 percent support for it. It has also been endorsed by Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is running for governor, Attorney General Jim Hood, and both of their opponents in the general election. It also enjoys wide bi-partisan support among candidate for the state legislature.
Opposing Initiative 26 are the state’s chapter of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union, which are making a procedural case against it—a tactic the state Supreme Court rejected—rather than arguing that it is unconstitutional or in some way runs counter to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe vs. Wade which legalized abortion on demand through the ninth month of pregnancy.
In fact, say supporters like Mason, the language of the initiative could pull the rug out from under Roe. Writing for the majority, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case [for decriminalized abortion], of course, collapses, for the fetus’s right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.”
The effort is part of a larger, global movement to define when life begins in an effort to undercut the case for legalized abortion. Should the measure in Mississippi succeed then the debate here in the United States would take on a whole new life.