It’s been something of a turbulent week in Mississippi with yesterday’s vote on the so-called personhood amendment that sought to give the legal rights of personhood to human eggs from “the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” Only a few weeks ago, this initiative was expected to easily pass in conservative Mississippi. The last poll number that I saw the day before the election said that it would be neck and neck. Instead, it was pretty handily defeated with somewhere around 58% voting against.
This kind of defeat on this highly controversial and highly sensitive issue was a shocker for everyone. Even the people who were actively campaigning against it didn’t expect that. What’s more it was defeated in rural areas where people tend to be even more conservative and even more religious.
Emotions have run high today. They’ve run high for the past week to tell you the truth. People fought tooth and nail all over Facebook on both sides of this. Families divided over it. Friends deleted each other as friends. It couldn’t have been more divisive.
I have played my own part in the drama. I was relentless in arguing against this with friends. I reacted to all of the reactions today.
In the beginning, I got angry when I saw more than one person say that it was okay if women died because of this initiative as long as it got rid of abortion. That set me off on a long string of Facebook posts in opposition to something I really hadn’t planned to say that much about.
Today, I got angry when I saw several people in a row say that you couldn’t be a Christian if you voted against it. Really, I shouldn’t have been reading Facebook this morning. It was over. I should have turned away and let it play out without me. But like any good train wreck I couldn’t seem to stop gawking, and I did see people who said there was only one way a Christian could have voted.
I was angry for a little while about that. Now I just thank God that we were all given brains to think for ourselves and people are not all required to think the same way.
Thus, I’ve decided to keep talking about this, but to move my discussions mostly to the blog. The vote is over. It’s not the time for campaign slogans. It might be a good time for thoughtful consideration, though. This could come up again, or it could come up in another state, and no one should really come to a final conclusion about how they feel while under the kind of emotional pressure put to people leading up to a highly contentious vote.
Essentially, I opposed Initiative 26 because I thought it left too much open to interpretation and that there was too much danger of it being used to make laws that hurt women’s access to proper health care. I did not think it was about abortion. I thought it was about a whole range of women’s health issues.
This proposition was meant to challenge Roe v. Wade by trying to define embryos as people whose right to life should be protected under the law. If it had actually been worded that way — to say that the embryo in the womb even during the first trimester of pregnancy deserves to be protected under the law — it probably would have passed with very little resistance in Mississippi. We would have still had an enormous and costly legal battle on our hands, and it would have still ultimately been an exercise in futility because the courts would have ruled it unconstitutional. But it would have passed. Mississippians would have overwhelmingly supported something they saw as anti-abortion legislation even if they knew it was in violation of federal law.
The fight here was not about whether Mississippi was in favor of abortion. It was about whether this proposition went too far.
We heard a lot of people who were in favor of 26 say, “I believe life begins at conception.” That’s all well and good, but that’s not what 26 said. It said “personhood begins at fertilization.” That does not mean the same thing as “life begins at conception.” There is a fundamental difference here that everyone needs to deeply and seriously think about during times of calm when we are not all emotionally invested in the outcome of a vote.
What 26 did was not to ask us if we are for or against abortion; it was to ask us if we are willing to change our entire understanding of what constitutes abortion.
“Life begins at conception” and “personhood begins at fertilization” do not mean the same thing. Women are not considered to be pregnant or to have conceived until a fertilized egg has implanted in the womb. The term fertilization changed the whole debate from one that was about abortion to one that was about birth control and IVF as well as other issues. It asked us to consider common means of birth control used today as well as standard medical practices used in IVF to fall under the umbrella of the term abortion. People who were in favor of it said that it did not do these things, but that is exactly the difference in the terms “life begins at conception” and “personhood begins at fertilization.” To say “life begins at conception” is to say it is immoral to end a pregnancy that is already established in the womb. To say “personhood begins at fertilization” is to say that any human intervention in the process that the egg goes through to establish a potential pregnancy constitutes abortion.
Consider this. The proponents of 26 said that it would end the use of the morning after pill but would not affect normal hormonal birth control pills. Yet the morning after pill is nothing more than normal hormonal birth control pills in a high dosage. It is made up of the same thing, and it does the same job. The primary function of the birth control pill is to prevent ovulation. A secondary function is to prevent implantation should an egg be produced and fertilized anyway. The morning after pill is just a high enough dosage of birth control to prevent implantation even if the woman has not previously been taking birth control. They are the same thing, and they do the same job. If one is made illegal, the other is certainly under question.
Thus, what we’ve been asked to do is to suddenly believe that something we’ve never seen as abortion before now constitutes abortion.
If you truly believe that human personhood begins at fertilization, you should be against the use of the birth control pill because it does prevent implantation of fertilized eggs. If you think that egg is already a person before it has implanted in the womb, then you should also see birth control as inducing abortions.
The thing is we have never actually seen it that way before. We haven’t spent the past 40 years debating whether to ban the abortion-inducing birth control pill because people have not defined the egg as a person. We have spent the past 40 years debating whether to ban the termination of established pregnancies because people have seen the embryo in the womb as a person.
I don’t think the egg is a person. I think the developed fetus is a person. I think the embryo is the sprout of a person. I don’t think the egg is a person. I think the egg is a seed.
Seeds in nature can only sprout and grow if they are planted. If they are never planted, they never grow. Nature generally produces many more seeds than it needs for reproduction because most seeds never become anything more than seeds. This is the case with human eggs. With no intervention from human behavior, most fertilized eggs are never implanted. Nature treats them as seeds, and the system nature uses is the one we should pay attention to when we attempt to write our own definitions. You are not pregnant if no egg has implanted. This is something that women who have tried and failed IVF can attest to. You are not pregnant if nothing has implanted. Most eggs on their own do not implant.
This is why I see a law that defines personhood at the point of fertilization, prior to implantation in the womb, as absurd. That definition turns the birth control pill into an abortion-inducing substance when it works to prevent implantation.
I do not believe that birth control is abortion. Furthermore, I believe that defining it as abortion would be disastrous for the state that already has the highest rate of unwanted pregnancies in the country.
Think what you will. Vote how you like. Practice what you believe. Just don’t dismiss out of hand the point that there were deep problems with Initiative 26 that went well beyond our normal understanding of abortion.
We may not ever all agree, but we do all have the God-given right to think for ourselves, and I believe that we ought to put a lot more thought and discussion into what this proposition really meant. I think we ought to discuss it and think about it and deeply consider it during a time when we aren’t under pressure to vote on it. That way maybe we’ll all be a little more prepared if the issue ever comes up again.