Amending Common Sense: Religious Right Backs ‘Personhood’ Initiative In Mississippi

This amendment is nothing less than an attempt by the Religious Right to twist the law to its theological liking.

On Nov. 8, Mississippi voters will attempt to answer a question that American society has wrestled with for decades: when does life begin?

If it passes, Initiative 26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to say that life begins at the moment of conception and that a fertilized egg has full legal rights as a person. The consequences of this would be far reaching, including banning abortion in virtually all cases (including rape and incest), as well as making many forms of contraception illegal.

Legal experts, such as Harvard University Law School professor Glenn Cohen, are critical of the structure of the law.

"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," he said, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Not surprisingly, the Religious Right is throwing its weight behind Initiative 26. One of the groups driving the legislation is Personhood USA, a Colorado-based outfit that describes itself as a “Christian Ministry that welcomes those who believe in the God-given right to life.” Among the group’s stated goals are glorifying Jesus Christ and “protecting every child by love and by law.”

The Associated Baptist Press reports that the amendment is also being backed by Mississippi’s largest and most powerful religious organization, the Mississippi Baptist Convention (MBC).

According to the state denominational newspaper, MBC Board Executive Director Jim Futral said, “It is a moral issue. It is an ethical issue. It is a spiritual issue.”

Noting the potential voting strength of Baptist congregations, Futral urged pastors to support the initiative.

“Mississippi Baptists,” he said, “can go to the polls, vote ‘Yes,’ and almost singlehandedly make the right decision.”

This amendment is nothing less than an attempt by the Religious Right to twist the law to its theological liking, and according to The New York Times, there is a very good chance that it will pass. If that happens, it will undoubtedly spawn lawsuits, years of litigation and, perhaps, a Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade.

According to Dr. Randall Hines, a fertility specialist in Jackson, Miss., the amendment represents “biological ignorance” because most fertilized eggs do not implant in the uterus or develop further, according to the Times.

This amendment also reflects ignorance of women’s rights.

Last night, Americans United had a wonderful event at which we honored our executive director, Barry W. Lynn, for his 20 years of service to our organization and the cause of church-state separation. Ellie Smeal, founder of the Feminist Majority, also spoke at the event, and she addressed Initiative 26 as one of many concerns facing the nation.

Smeal expressed her horror at this proposal and said it is an assault by the Religious Right on basic liberties. She urged Americans to contact everyone they know who is registered to vote in Mississippi and urge them to cast their ballots against Initiative 26 on Nov. 8.