Abortion Amendment Unlikely | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Abortion Amendment Unlikely

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Personhood Mississippi organizer Les Riley said the Secretary of State's validation of an anti-abortion ballot initiative is a victory.

Personhood Mississippi leader Les Riley stood in front of a small but fervent crowd last week at the secretary of state's office proclaiming victory for the pro-life movement. His children, wearing T-shirts adorned with fetuses and waving Christian flags, hovered around half a dozen cardboard boxes filled with signatures for a 2011 ballot initiative aimed at ending abortion in Mississippi.

"We are making history because Mississippi will lead the nation in providing equal rights to all human beings, regardless of their size or location," Riley told the crowd.

Over a year ago, Riley, a father of 10, started organizing grassroots efforts to garner enough signatures for a 2011 ballot initiative to change the state constitution. He and his volunteers want voters to decide whether the constitution should designate when life begins by adding the following clause: "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

After 13 months of trolling for signatures by canvassing communities, churches and businesses statewide, Riley says the movement has obtained 105,000 valid signatures. The secretary of state's office requires 89,285 statewide voter signatures with at least 17,857 from each congressional district to qualify an issue for a ballot initiative. Having accepted the signatures, the secretary of state's office will now evaluate the petitions.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is expected to run for governor in 2011, solicited phone messages for organization, saying his participation fell in line with his religious beliefs.

"I had a prayer when I first started office: I didn't want to just pass bills and worry over budgets; I wanted to do something special. I wanted to end abortion in Mississippi," Bryant told the crowd. " said Lord if you'll send me there, I am going to do all that I can to stop this horrible sin that has blighted America."

Amending a state's constitution isn't a new tactic to end abortions, but it is gaining momentum in several states. In Colorado, like Mississippi, the state-level group has collected enough signatures for a ballot initiative in 2011. Personhood groups are also pushing for amendments in Missouri, California, Montana and Florida.

Colorado became the first state to gain enough signatures for a personhood amendment in 2008; however, Amendment 48 fell significantly short of passing, with only 27 percent of Coloradans voting to change their state constitution.

If, in fact, the 2011 amendment passes in the Mississippi Legislature, it would still have numerous legal hurdles. The amendment could not make abortions illegal by itself, but would give lawmakers and lawyers leverage in restricting the procedure.

Harriett Johnson, advocacy coordinator for the ACLU in Jackson, says that if passed, the initiative would bring legal ramifications for women's reproduction rights by challenging current law, and would violate the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

"(The amendment) is intended to eliminate a woman's right to make personal and private health-care decisions," Johnson said. "In regards to the law, it would invite lawyers in courts to reinterpret every Mississippi law and regulation that contains the word 'person.' It would clog up the court system at the cost of Mississippi taxpayers."

Johnson could not confirm if the ACLU planned to file suit against Personhood Mississippi or the state.

Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey says the amendment would be "null and void."

"If the case was to go before the U.S. Supreme Court, it's 100 percent certain that the law would be struck down as unconstitutional. An effort to (ban abortion) would be essentially symbolic at this point," he said. "But even if it passes with 100 percent of the vote, it's still unconstitutional." As unconstitutional, Steffey added, as it would be if voters in Mississippi wanted to re-establish segregation in the state.

Riley insists that the amendment would immediately ban abortion in Mississippi and if it is challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, he says he is ready to put up a fight.

"A court decision is not law; the shocking thing to me is that we treat them as laws," Riley said. The state of Mississippi is fixing to educate the Supreme Court."

Previous Comments

ID
156297
Comment

"A court decision is not law; the shocking thing to me is that we treat them as laws," Riley said. I'm going to take a wild guess that Riley is not an attorney. There is some kind of absurd symmetry in activists such as Riley taking up civil rights language to restrict the civil rights of women. After all, the Supreme Court has decided that access to abortion is a civil right. Calling for "equal rights" for embryos is a strange evasion, for the question of when life begins is essentially a religious question. As for religion, I will remain forever baffled that people proclaim themselves fundamentalists in one breath and pro-life for religious reasons in the next. The Bible says nothing about abortion.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-02-25T14:22:38-06:00
ID
156298
Comment

Surely the living/nonliving status of a human is not a "religious" question. We would not consider the religious opinion that life begins at age 10, or at the severing of the umbilical cord, for example. The fact that some desire to allow doctors to end the life of a human with a unique identity doesn't mean doesn't make it a matter of opinion or a religious question. And as for the Bible, it doesn't mention intentionally running people down with your car, but somehow we are intelligent enough to apply the moral principles to new situations. As a matter of fact, there are passages in the Bible which confirm the position that unborn children are alive and have a unique identity.

Author
Mark Geoffriau
Date
2010-02-25T14:47:07-06:00
ID
156300
Comment

the question of when life begins is essentially a religious question. Is it really? If that is true then how can the law say when that is. And if the law or science can't say for sure when that is, how can we be sure that an abortion doesn't take a life? The obvious answer is we can't. If it was simple to see that abortion takes the life of a child we would know it's wrong. If we don't know when life for a child begins, how anyone can support the practice is what baffles me. It's a bit like Schrödinger's cat, only it can't be both alive and not at the same time, it's one or the other. That uncertainty would be enough for me to err on the side of not risking the chance that it is a life. Some people believe that the risk is worth it and I can't agree with that. The Bible says nothing about abortion. Neither does the constitution but lawyers found it in there somehow. Maybe the same lawyers could find it in the bible.

Author
WMartin
Date
2010-02-25T15:32:49-06:00
ID
156310
Comment

Sorry, but it's not that simple. 14th Amendment states "All persons born...in the United States...are citizens of the United States". And Section 1 of Article Two states "No person except a natural born Citizen...shall be eligible to the Office of President. The problem is the word "born" in the constitution. The word "born" needs to be replaced with the word "conceived". The complexity is found after thinking thru what would happen. Here's a few changes that come to mind. 1. Birth certificates are relaced with conception certificates. 2. All women are required to get pregnancy test after sexual intercourse. 3. Conception certificate issued upon positive pregnancy test. 4. IRS dependency qualification uses year of conception. 5. Death certificate required for all miscarriages. 6. Funeral services for miscarriages. 7. Homicide investigation of miscarriages when cause of death is other than natural. 8. Potential prosecution of mothers for negligent homicide, manslaughter or worse. 9. Automatic American citizenship for children of non-citizens conceived in US. 10. Presidential eligibility for anyone conceived in US. 11. I need help for a word to replace birthday. I've been waiting for pro life religions to go ahead and implement 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 11. I don't see any laws that ban those changes. I need help to answer why religions or pro life groups haven't paved the way.

Author
PaulN_0310
Date
2010-02-25T19:45:23-06:00
ID
156311
Comment

Yay for abortion!!!! Every abortion is one less fatherless brat my tax dollars have to pay to raise.

Author
DrumminD21311
Date
2010-02-25T20:03:33-06:00
ID
156312
Comment

The Bible indirectly speaks of abortion when it speaks of the beginning of life. In the New Testament it speaks of John being filled with the spirit while in the womb. It also speaks of both John and Jesus as persons while still in the womb. Seems like that is some evidence for a beginning to life before birth.

Author
peyton
Date
2010-02-25T22:17:39-06:00
ID
156315
Comment

Remember that with regard to religion I was speaking only of fundamentalists, who claim to honor the literal word of the Bible. The equivalent on the Supreme Court might be someone like Scalia, who does not support a constitutional right to abortion. If Scalia claimed to be an "originalist" but still somehow found a strong right to an abortion in the Constitution, he would be like fundamentalist Christians. Otherwise, I'll quote Tom Head on these matters. Mark is right that the Bible recognizes life in the womb, but it also explicitly treats that life differently all other people. Killing a person outside of the womb warrants the death penalty or exile, but killing a fetus is punishable only by a fine--and that's in a circumstance where the killing of a fetus takes place against the woman's will. Exodus describes no penalty of any kind for women who choose to terminate their own pregnancies, nor does any other passage in the Bible.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-02-26T07:39:07-06:00
ID
156316
Comment

I call the question of when life begins a religious one because there is no rational way to resolve it. Mark, you're simply begging the question by asserting that embryos are equivalent to any other life. I believe that embryos have intrinsic value, and we must treat them morally. But they are not unique human beings equivalent to a 10-year-old child. That's simply metaphor stretched to absurdity. There is no biological basis for determining when a developing embryo becomes a baby. It's shades of gray, up to some point where most people would agree that we are now talking about an infant. Considering that intelligent people disagree vehemently on this issue, passing a constitutional amendment to settle it by fiat is not a good idea.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-02-26T07:47:48-06:00
ID
156317
Comment

Brian, I'd argue that you are guilty of question-begging by drawing a false dichotomy between a "fetus" and a "baby". How is it a "metaphor stretched to absurdity"? It is living human tissue, with a unique and individual DNA code. Only violent action or sickness will stop it from going through the natural stages of life. That is the plain truth, and the assertion that there exists some divide in the growth process during which the fetus is endowed with "human life" is the assertion on which the burden of proof rests. Intelligent people have believed in a lot of bad things, Brian. Simply recognizing that there's disagreement on this issue is not a free pass to do whatever we wish.

Author
Mark Geoffriau
Date
2010-02-26T08:28:08-06:00
ID
156318
Comment

Brian, certainly we can disagree - you're correct. This is a complicated issue. But I don't understand your last post. How can you say that "embryos have intrinsic value, and we must treat them morally" and then advocate abortion? If you are comfortable aborting embryos with intrinsic value, how do you propose that we treat them "morally?" And in your last sentence you suggest that passing a constitutional amendment is a "fiat." In fact, they are quite the opposite. A fiat - by definition - is an authoritative decree, sanction, or order: as in a royal fiat handed down by the king. A constitutional amendment, on the other hand, expresses the will of the electorate.

Author
whoverstreet
Date
2010-02-26T08:41:56-06:00
ID
156322
Comment

Mark, "fetus" and "baby" are not synonyms. Besides, your definition goes far beyond the fetus, to a single-celled embryo. I call it a metaphor because a microscopic embryo is clearly not a baby. Pro-life advocates repeat this claim over and over and over again, but it's not literally true. It is certainly reasonable to claim that human identity begins at conception, but it is equally reasonable to offer other answers. Many people believe that human identity begins with the heart beat, or the start of the second trimester, or with the viability of the fetus outside of the womb. None of these answers are objectively better than the others. I certainly disagree with your belief that human identity can be reduced to genetic identity. To me, it seems a strange sort of gene mysticism, as if the soul leaps into the embryo the moment the chromosomes combine. I do not think that aborting an embryo is murder, and neither do the majority of Americans.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-02-26T10:34:17-06:00
ID
156324
Comment

Brian, your reply answers nothing -- you've misstated me several times, and offered an argument on popularity. I have not said that "fetus" and "baby" are synonymous, only that it's a false dichotomy to suggest some critical divide in development. They are convenient terms that encompass different parts of the development, not hard categories. Moreover, even if I was willing to grant such a definition of terms (which I'm not), you'd still have to demonstrate the qualitative difference between a fetus and a baby, and provide a credible reason for believing that a fetus is somehow less than human. I also have not said that human identity can be reduced to genetic identity. I offered the genetic identity as supporting evidence that even the single-celled zygote is a living human tissue that is different from both the mother and father.

Author
Mark Geoffriau
Date
2010-02-26T10:47:55-06:00
ID
156326
Comment

"fetus" and "baby" are not synonyms It seems The American Heritage Dictionary disagrees with you. "baby." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Answers.com 26 Feb. 2010. http://www.answers.com/topic/manchester-mark-i Dictionary: ba·by n., pl., -bies. 1. 1. A very young child; an infant. 2. An unborn child; a fetus. 3. The youngest member of a family or group. 4. A very young animal. 2. An adult or young person who behaves in an infantile way. 3. Slang. A girl or young woman. 4. Informal. Sweetheart; dear. Used as a term of endearment. 5. Slang. An object of personal concern or interest: Keeping the boat in good repair is your baby.

Author
WMartin
Date
2010-02-26T10:53:58-06:00
ID
156327
Comment

Whover, I do not advocate abortion. I believe in abortion rights. There is a difference. An embryo clearly has a different kind of worth than an object like a hammer. That is, an embryo has special moral status. For me, its value falls somewhere between that of an unfertilized egg and a viable fetus. It is certainly not a baby. When we consider abortion, we have to weigh the civil rights and medical needs of the mother against the intrinsic worth of the embryo. I do not think that aborting an embryo has no moral dimension. However, on balance, I think it is moral for women to abort embryos. At the very least, it is highly immoral to intrude into the personal lives of women who make that choice. That does not mean that embryos have no moral value whatsoever. I think it is a mistake to apply black-and-white thinking to this issue. It offers only false certainty. Perhaps "fiat" was too strong a word. However, it seems to me that this would be a case where the majority would be trampling on the rights of the minority. We do not live in an absolute democracy, where the majority rules in every matter. Instead, we live in a constitutional republic, which limits the rule of the majority. In this case, an amendment granting citizenship to human embryos is a radical departure from both tradition and current law. I believe that constitutional amendments are appropriate only when there is broad agreement on the need for change. In this case, there is huge disagreement between reasonable people. I do not think that we should add a constitutional amendment extending citizenship to embryos until there is consensus on the question.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-02-26T10:55:38-06:00
ID
156329
Comment

WMartin, it is trivial to cite a dictionary entry in an argument like this. Dictionaries provide general guidance on usage. They are not a definitive authority on meaning. That is a misuse of the dictionary. Besides, I don't consider the American Heritage dictionary a good source. I prefer Merriam-Webster. Main Entry: 1ba·by Pronunciation: \ˈbā-bē\ Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural babies Etymology: Middle English, from babe Date: 14th century 1 a (1) : an extremely young child; especially : infant (2) : an extremely young animal b : the youngest of a group 2 a : one that is like a baby (as in behavior) b : something that is one's special responsibility, achievement, or interest 3 slang a : girl, woman —often used in address b : boy, man —often used in address 4 : person, thing "is one tough baby" Rather than squabbling over dictionary definitions, you should acknowledge that most people see a difference between a 10-week-old fetus that is 1 inch long and a 3-month-old baby. The distinction is obvious.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-02-26T11:07:28-06:00
ID
156330
Comment

Brian, at what length does the fetus become a baby and receive "human life"? No need for exactness, I'll accept answers to the nearest tenth of an inch. Seriously, though -- it's a strawman to say that "most people see a difference". We're not arguing that there is no difference between a 10 week old fetus and a 3 month old baby. Clearly, the differences are numerous and varied. What we ARE arguing is that there is no qualitative difference with respect to its status as a living human being.

Author
Mark Geoffriau
Date
2010-02-26T11:11:57-06:00
ID
156331
Comment

Mark, I agree with you that "baby" and "fetus" are not hard categories, though I'm not sure what you mean by a "critical divide." Nevertheless, these terms have meaning, and there are real differences between the categories those words signify. Gradations of meaning are not absence of meaning. For what it's worth, the definition you just offered would extend personhood to both sperm and eggs. Each has a distinct, unique genetic identity. Each is living "human tissue," at least to the extent that a fertilized embryo is. Frankly, I believe you have it exactly wrong about which one of us has to make our case. I am relying on traditional notions of human identity and current law. You are advocating a radical revision in those categories based on your assertion that human identity begins at conception. The burden of argument is on your side.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-02-26T11:21:09-06:00

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