Sometimes when I’m having a stressful day at work, I’ll spend five (or fifteen) minutes looking at pictures of adorable dogs on The Daily Puppy or Cute Overload. If I happen to be working at home on a particularly stressful day, I go one better and spend an inordinate amount of time staring at, playing with, and generally annoying my perpetually sleepy and rumpled Shih Tzu. But look at that picture – can you really blame me?
After reading about Mississippi’s proposed Amendment 26, which would define a fertilized egg as a legal person, I had to wonder if that state’s legislators were taking a similar routine a bit too far. After all, babies are cute, and staring at pictures of babies is a fun distraction from a crappy economy, so why not just talk about babies and hypothetical babies all the time instead of actually working to improve our country’s myriad problems, pretty much none of which have anything to do with private decisions about pregnancy?
My mother, who grew up in Alabama, used to say that Alabamans loved Mississippi because it was always doing worse than their state. Which is kind of harsh, but objectively speaking, Mississippi isn’t in great shape. In last year’s national educational rankings, Mississippi came in 46th out of the fifty states and D.C., and it currently has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country.
I’m not pointing this out to pick on Mississippi – hey, I was born in Alabama and grew up in Michigan, so I know from states with bad job prospects and less-than-stellar school systems. But the fact that the state has so many actual problems makes it that much clearer that all this amendment and personhood nonsense is just that – a sideshow to distract from the real issues its citizens are facing.
Not that that’s stopping both of the state’s gubernatorial candidates from publicly supporting Amendment 26. The Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, is a co-chair of a pro-26 campaign; Johnny DuPree, the Democratic candidate, has tempered his support with an admission that if the amendment passes, it could have an effect on both contraception and medical care.
And that’s usually where these personhood pushes fall apart. For a lot of people, it’s one thing to oppose abortion, but it’s another thing altogether to prohibit doctors from terminating dangerous ectopic pregnancies, interfere with fertility treatments, and ban certain forms of contraception, such as the pill and the IUD. Such methods may prevent the egg from becoming fertilized or implanting in the uterus, and so could be considered abortifacients under legislation like 26.
Very little about the personhood movement makes sense from a scientific, legal, or rational point of view, but it might be the insistence on demonizing birth control that is the most befuddling. As Maureen wrote in a post on the personhood movement earlier this year, “[I]t goes against every grain of logic to be anti-contraception if you are anti-abortion. Preventing unwanted pregnancies should be the common ground between the two camps, not another battle ground. In what way does outlawing or reducing access to contraception reduce the number of abortions? Oh, right, it doesn’t.”
Interestingly, some mainstream anti-choice groups are just as opposed to Amendment 26 and its ilk as pro-choicers are. They consider it unconstitutional, and a distraction to their more pressing goal of overturning Roe v. Wade entirely. But while the personhood initiatives are very likely unconstitutional, I wouldn’t be so sure that such amendments would get in the way of outlawing abortion in this country. After all, does it really matter if abortion is a legal medical procedure, if your own state has decided that a fertilized egg has the same rights as a woman?
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.