By the time this article appears in print, voters in Mississippi will be heading to the polls to vote on Proposition 26, an amendment to the state’s constitution that grants personhood to fetuses and fertilized eggs. The legal, political, and social implications of such a bill are enormous, but not everyone realizes the extent of its potential impact.
According to the website personhoodmississippi.com, leader of the “Vote Yes on 26” campaign, “Amendment 26… is a citizens initiative to amend the Mississippi Constitution to define personhood as beginning at fertilization or ‘the functional equivalent thereof.’ Its purpose is to protect all life, regardless of age, health, function, physical or mental dependency, or method of reproduction.” Not only does the amendment prohibit abortion, it outlaws cloning as well.
Legally, if a fertilized egg or fetus counts as a person, then abortion can be prosecuted as murder. A person who performs or has an abortion, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the procedure—health of the mother or fetus, rape, incest—is prosecutable in court as a murderer, which carries a sentence of 25 years to life.
Even if she wanted to prevent pregnancy, under the proposed amendment, she can’t—birth control is a form of contraception or prevention of life, and if an unborn egg suddenly has rights and the attempt to impinge on the life of that unborn egg is considered criminal, then birth control is illegal. It sounds bizarre, but pharmacies that stock certain contraceptives and doctors who prescribe them would suddenly be violating the law.
How is that for odd, folks? Getting thee to a nunnery doesn’t sound so bad after all.
Women, pharmacies, and doctors are not the only ones who will suffer; adoption agencies, state agencies, and foster care units and their volunteers are already strained in their efforts to provide for unwanted children. Families willing to adopt are notoriously few relative to children who need adopting. Children born under these circumstances—unwanted by their parents or ill-cared for by agencies strapped for cash—suffer most of all.
Women who miscarry will also suffer under this bill; they will face charges of manslaughter. It does not even matter if they are convicted; the stress of undergoing a trial in addition to mourning the loss of a baby is a cruel punishment for an innocent person, not to mention her partner.
Don’t be fooled; if Prop 26 passes in Mississippi, it won’t just affect Mississippians. Pro-choice advocates and others will inevitably challenge the amendment, and it will go before the Supreme Court. If the current conservative court votes by a small majority to uphold the amendment, then that becomes judicial precedent for similar laws in states across the entire nation. Imagine if our wonderfully open, sexually progressive campus suddenly couldn’t even hand out free condoms for fear of prosecution.
Our generation is privileged. We get to take for granted what our parents and grandparents’ generations fought for. However, those things they accomplished are not set in stone; ever since their passage, opponents have fought, some successfully, to reduce or eliminate progressive steps such as affirmative action, the right to abortion, the right to privacy, the right to vote regardless of race or ethnicity or socioeconomic status, the right to strike, and more. We cannot write off Mississippi as a far away state with no impact on us—if we allow the rights of women in Mississippi to be destroyed, we set a precedent for our own to be demolished.