The controversial Mississippi Personhood Amendment was defeated 55-45 last night. But it was just as much a victory for traditional pro-life groups as it was for pro-choice ones.
The Rev. Jimmy Porter, director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s Christian Action Commission, summed up the feeling of many pro-lifers who supported Mississippi’s Personhood amendment.
“We mourn with heaven tonight over the loss of Initiative 26, which would have provided the hope of life for thousands of God’s unborn babies in Mississippi. Instead the unborn in Mississippi will continue to be led down on a path of destruction to horrible deaths both inside their mothers and in laboratories.”
But most pro-lifers are breathing a little easier tonight.
The “Personhood” Amendment did not have the support of the major pro-life groups. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Episcopal and Methodist Churches refrained from supporting it. As did the National Right to Life Committee and Americans United For Life.
In fact going back to 2009, Mississippi’s Catholic Bishop Joseph Latino didn’t even want the issue to come up:
“I join with Catholic bishops in several other states in not endorsing personhood petitions to be circulated in our Catholic parishes. We have committed ourselves to working for a federal amendment and feel the push for a state amendment could ultimately harm our efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Since the Supreme Court case Casey v. Planned Parenthood reaffirmed Roe, most pro-life activists have worked on a strategy of incrementaly restricting access to abortion, and chipping away carefully at the legal edges of Roe. The strategy has had undeniable success. They have restricted public funds from abortion through the Hyde Amendment and regulated clinics out of existence. They’ve added parental notification laws and waiting periods in some states. The success in lowering the incidence of abortion is undeniable.
There is another group of Pro-lifers, most prominently represented by the American Life League, who support a “Personhood Now” approach to pro-life activism. They believe that instead of settling for small measures, pro-life activists should simply articulate the whole truth that abortion destroys the life of a human person.
They argue that by directly challenging Roe in this way they can achieve all the pro-life movement’s goals in just a few simple steps.
But the incrementalists believe that this silver bullet approach accomplishes little while risking much. The head of Wisconsin Right to Life has made the case against “Personhood” Amendments. The reasons are as follows
- Personhood amendments may overturn existing laws restricting abortion, because states treat abortion and homicide as legally different actions. Abortion restrictions would have to be replaced with fetal-homicide laws.
- Legal challenges to the Personhood amendment could result in the awarding of legal fees to Planned Parenthood
- If a Personhood Amendment was construed to ban abortion it may go to the Supreme Court which currently has a pro-Roe majority, one that might take the opportunuity to rule against the “personhood” of unborn children, and possibly reversing the incrementalists’ legal gains.
In other words, if you don’t expect a good answer, don’t ask the question.
It’s hard to imagine more fertile ground for a Personhood Amendment than Mississippi. That it was defeated there so resoundingly will discourage other pro-life activists from trying this silver-bullet approach again.
What many are casting as a victory for a woman’s right to choose may really be a victory for the persistent and successful mainstream pro-life movement.
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