Mississippi Governor 'Concerned' About Personhood Amendment, May Not Vote for Measure

 @ashleyportero on November 03 2011 6:18 AM
Abortion Debate
Lawmakers in Ohio have revived efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and limit abortion services in the final weeks of its legislative session. Reuters

Even if a majority of Mississippians vote in favor of initiative 26, a Personhood constitutional amendment that declares human life begins at the moment in which an egg is fertilized, on Tues. Nov. 8 there may be at least one person who is not completely on board with its implications: state Gov. Haley Barbour.

During an interview with both Fox News and MSNBC on Tuesday, the governor, discussing the proposal, said there are plenty of traditional anti-abortion supporters who are questioning the appropriateness of the amendment -- including him.

While Barbour emphasized that he personally believes life begins at conception, he told MSNBC's Chuck Todd that he has not decided if he will vote for the measure because of the ramifications it could theoretically have on women's reproductive rights and health.

I believe life begins at conception. Unfortunately, this Personhood amendment doesn't say that. It says life begins at fertilization, or cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning. And I'm talking about people that are very, outspokenly pro-life, Barbour said.

Ambiguous Language

The language of the amendment, Barbour said, is profoundly ambiguous and could be detrimental to women experiencing ectopic pregnancies -- when the embryo implants itself outside of the uterus in the fallopian tubes -- a potentially life-threatening condition, and other health conditions while pregnant.

While speaking with FOX News, Barbour noted that he believes the amendment would have been considerably more likely to pass if it clearly stated that life begins at conception, since Mississippi is an enormously pro-life state.

He also pointed out that if the amendment passes, it will not completely discount Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion up until viability, as some critics have suggested. Instead, he said Personhood supporters will likely use its passage as a spring-board to take the amendment to the U.S. Supreme Court and possibly re-define the nation's legal stance on abortion.

Still, many pro-choice organizations are concerned that if initiative 26 passes it will embolden similar efforts in several other states whose legislatures have introduced Personhood initiatives. Personhood USA, the organization that has pushed for the effort, reports that Personhood bills and amendments have been proposed in states like Florida, Ohio, South Dakota and Georgia.

Impact on IUDs, Morning-After Pill

On its Web site, Personhood USA describes the movement as one that is working to respect the God-given right to life by recognizing all human beings as person who are 'created in the image of God' from the beginning of their biological development. Its ban on abortion even extends to pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest.

The language of initiative 26 is particularly invasive since it could be interpreted in a way that bans common forms of contraception, as well as in-vitro fertilization. While most forms of birth control, such as the pill, work by preventing ovulation and consequently, conception some -- such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and the morning-after bill -- prevent a fertilized egg from successfully implanting in a woman's uterus. Blocking that implementation, according to the initiative 26, would be tantamount to murder.

Although Personhood supporters have denied the amendment would go as far as prohibiting hormonal birth control pills, one of the movement's leaders has completely contradicted that argument. In an interview with NPR's Diane Rehm Show on Monday, Personhood USA spokesperson Walter Hoye said any form of birth control that ends a human life will be impacted by the measure.

When Rehm specifically asked him whether birth control pills would also be prohibited, Hoye responded that they would if they fall into that category.

I'm saying that once the egg and the oocyte come together and you have that single-celled embryo, at that point you have human life, you've got a human being and we're taking the life of a human being with some forms of birth control and if birth control falls into that category, yes I am, Hoye said.

Impact on Conventional Birth Control Pill

While birth-control pills primarily work preventing fertilization in the first place, some extreme pro-life supporters argue that an egg could possibly be fertilized even if a woman does use them. The slim chance of such an occurrence is enough for some Personhood supporters to call for a ban on the pill.

There have been no official public polls documenting state-wide support of initiative 26. Even though Mississippi is widely considered to be the most conservative state in the nation -- a fact that Gallup confirmed earlier this year -- only 50 percent of voters identified their political views as conservative. Plus, since even a number of anti-choice voters are concerned about the implications of the amendment, it may have considerably less support that the movement itself is advertising.

Forrest Jenkins, a Mississippi-based attorney who opposes Initiative 26, told Salon that the amendment will only pass if people are unclear about the full-extent of its repercussions.

[The Personhood movement] can either convince people that birth control is abortion or they can convince people that it's not really true and we're just being silly, he said.

 

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