The state of Mississippi will be considering Initiative 26 in less than two weeks. This ballot initiative is radical and dangerous; it intends to elevate a single cell to the full status of an adult human being, with all the rights and privileges of such status. It has an effect that ripples through every law on the books, because it changes who they apply to…and you know that no matter how charitably you might try to interpret the law, some fanatic somewhere is going to use it punish women for getting pregnant. It puts a little time bomb in the uterus of every expecting mother.
BALLOT TITLE: Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?
BALLOT SUMMARY: Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.
This is Dr Freda Bush, who seems to be the spokesperson for this abomination of a law. Notice how nice and positive she is, and how warm and sincere her voice is. Notice also that she lies through her smiling mouth.
Here’s what she says that fills me with fury. It’s a lie.
Science confirms that a person is a human being at the moment of fertilization. At that moment we are fully human and fully alive.
No, “science” does not say that. She is playing word games. It’s only true if all a person is to you is a cell or tissue with the right ancestry and the right collection of genes; she relies on our colloquial understanding of “human” to imply our better qualities, the gifts that make us different from animals, the elements our our nature that freight the word “humane”. Science does not judge that. Science can look at the derivation of a cell, and we could sequence genes from it and assess its relationship to human genes, and we could apply tests and tissue-type its proteins and tell you what species it belongs to, but there are no unambiguous markers for the broader meaning of humanity.
What she says is nominally, superficially true, but only in the sense that it also applies to an excised anal polyp…which is also “fully human” and “fully alive”, as the cells have the right number of chromosomes, are derived from a human parent, and have metabolisms whirring away just as industriously as any other cell in the body. We tend, however, to confine the meaning of “human” in the moral, social, aesthetic, and freakin’ meaningful sense of the word to something more substantial than the flavor of the meat. These mindless godbots want to throw that meaning away.
We can say that the cell at fertilization has no capacity for love, no sense of humor, no joy in its existence, no thoughts or plans — it lacks the neural substrates to do any of that. At some point, the developing fetus will acquire those abilities, but science can’t say precisely when, so it’s a lie to claim that you have a definitive, absolute, positive answer.
The real ambiguity of science and the imaginary certainty of these dogmatists has real consequences, though. If passed, it means women who are raped do not have recourse to abortion or even the morning after pill. It means fetuses with crippling, devastating abnormalities will be forced to be carried to term. Worse still, it means that common forms of contraceptive could be determined to be criminal: IUDs that prevent implantation and birth control pills that may prevent implantation (that’s not their primary mode of action) could be declared illegal. Proponents of the initiative claim that it will not, but they are being disingenuous and denying the known behaviors of the fanatical ‘pro-life’ crowd. You know some raving Catholic or devout Baptist will use this law as a lever to ban every potential instrument of family planning that hinders the hegemony of the patriarchy.
It also denies the reality of Mississippi.
It’s the most conservative state in the nation. Planned Parenthood (which doesn’t even provide abortions in its one clinic here) and the ACLU are dirty words. Where there were once seven abortion clinics in the state, the one remaining flies in a doctor from out of state. As for supporting life, Mississippi’s infant mortality rate is the worst of any state in the nation. The number of babies who die as infants in Mississippi is double the number of abortions annually. It also has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy nationwide, alongside a child welfare system that remains dangerously broken.)
If they really cared about babies, all their energy would be spent correcting that abysmal infant mortality rate. But they don’t. They care about god and public piety, nothing more.
This law is not about bringing public policy in line with the scientific evidence — the people behind it do not have a record of ever caring about that. This is pure religious illogic.
Imbuing fertilized eggs with rights isn’t a serious philosophical position, it’s a convenient rhetorical tactic to justify subjugating women.