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What Prenatal Personhood Doesn’t Mean

By the end of the day on Tuesday we should know whether Mississippi has added the following to their state constitution:

Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”

The polling suggests that the vote will be very close.  One can certainly understand why those who are interested in getting prenatal human beings equal protection of the laws would be excited, while those who focus on reproductive choice would be outraged.

High drama, right?

However, even if the amendment passes, we will know little else of interest given that abortion, IVF, and certain kinds of abortifacients could all be theoretically justified even if prenatal humans have full moral and legal status.  The law, for instance, permits one to kill a person in various situations (self-defense, for instance) and also to refuse to sustain a person even when they will die without support (all of us could save a life that would otherwise die by donating money to Catholic Relief Services), but the law has not had to think through the circumstances and implications of a person being inside another’s body, or a person being frozen in fertility lab, etc.

What this also means, however, is that insofar as it is less than clear that abortion and other like procedures would be banned under this law, it is also less than clear that his law will be found unconstitutional on the grounds that it conflicts with basic reproductive rights.

Bottom line: if this amendment passes, we will have far more questions than we have answers.

For a nice discussion of some of these questions, check out the following segment from Up With Chris Hayes on Sunday:  Peter Singer, Michael Brendan Dougherty of BusinessInsider.com, economist Robin Wells and writer Michelle Goldberg have a pretty sophisticated conversation.  The Mississippi discussion starts at about 13:40.

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2 Comments

  1. I wonder how many people know that Peter Singer thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided!

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