There was a time when the only “hood” conjured up by mention of the State of Mississippi was the white hood of the Klansman as he burned crosses and lynched blacks. My, what a difference some sixty years make! Now Mississippi’s concern for civil rights reaches all the way back into the uterus. Tomorrow, the citizens of Mississippi will vote on whether the state constitution should be amended to define “personhood” as the point at which the human female egg is fertilized by the male sperm. With a person thus defined, a whole new class of homicides could conceivably be on the books in no time flat.
This legal definition of “person” is clearly designed to challenge Roe v. Wade and that in itself is not so bad. It might even be considered a clever way of attacking the 1973 Supreme Court decision. The problem is that the definition shows no understanding of human biology and is therefore patently absurd. You see, the definition does not specify that the fertilized egg must be implanted in the wall of the uterus. Without that specification all sorts of ridiculous results occur.
- Very often, fertilized eggs leave the woman via menstruation, having never successfully attached to the uterine wall. This “crime” of a discarded person would not even get noticed.
- At least two forms of birth control, the IUD and the “morning after pill” prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. This interference in the development of a “person” would be homicide.
- Since in vitro fertilization involves the fertilization of multiple eggs outside the womb and reintroduction of a subset of those zygotes back into the womb, those “persons” outside of that subset would not be allowed to live, hence murder by definition of the constitutional amendment. This means in vitro procedures would have to be changed such that only one egg is fertilized and reintroduced into the womb, thereby greatly decreasing the likelihood of pregnancy.
As Chris Hayes of The Nation magazine and MSNBC pondered last weekend on his show “Up”, what kind of enforcement mechanism would be in place to support this amendment? Would the uterus suddenly, in the words of The Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg, become a “crime scene”? Would every miscarriage trigger a criminal investigation?
Clearly a major component in the abortion debate is an understanding of when life begins. Reasonable people can differ on this. However, pregnancy itself is defined as starting with implantation of the zygote into the uterine wall, at which point it becomes an embryo. So if we agree that abortion is termination of a pregnancy, then we cannot count a zygote as being “aborted”. Until implantation, the woman is not pregnant. So loss of a zygote cannot be abortion.
The bottom line is that the proposed amendment ignores biology and goes too far in its attempt to stop abortions. If the amendment passes, it will be a triumph of moral fervor over scientific knowledge and common sense.