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Beside the point in Mississippi

Mississippi votes next week on what's called a Personhood Amendment -- a very short question about whether the state constitution should grant
Beside the point in Mississippi
Beside the point in Mississippi

Mississippi votes next week on what's called a Personhood Amendment -- a very short question about whether the state constitution should grant personhood to fertilized eggs:

"Should the term 'person' be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?"

This spoonful of language turns out to be surprisingly powerful. If a fertilized egg is a person, then fertility treatments, ending dangerous pregnancies, abortions including cases of rape and incest, and ordinary miscarriages all carry the possibility that you're committing a murder. Likewise, popular forms of birth control like the IUD prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, and thus the IUD becomes a lethal weapon.

And there's more, as we've been reporting. A secondary function of birth control pills -- the backup plan -- can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting (Want to hear more? Visit the Man Cave). This feature of the pill has led to a split in the campaign for the Personhood Amendment. The people who want to outlaw abortion in Mississippi and give the state control of every pregnancy disagree about whether their amendment would turn the pill into a lethal weapon, the way they're sure the IUD does. (The disagreement is pictured in the instant folk art below, from the campaign against the Personhood Amendment.)

This week a leader of the Personhood USA movement talked about the pill on public radio. That clip's embedded below. FWIW, I'm not at all sure my ears hear this the same way others do. The Florida Independent, for instance, runs this as the exchange between Diane Rehm and Walter Hoye:

Rehm: So you're saying that the birth control pill could be considered as taking the life of a human being?Hoye: I'm saying that once the egg and the oocyte come together and you have that single-celled embryo, at that point you have human life, you've got a human being and we're taking the life of a human being with some forms of birth control and if birth control falls into that category, yes I am.

Like the No on 26 campaign, the Florida Independent listens to this and decides the national Personhood movement is admitting that their legislation affects the birth control pill. Again, FWIW, in Mississippi, Personhood activists are divided on the question, not least because banning the pill would be mighty unpopular. Me, I listen to Walter Hoye and hear him expressing a hypothetical, not an absolute -- that's just me.

But the point is this: It doesn't matter what I hear, or what Walter Hoye thinks, or what Personhood USA thinks, or what the divided activists of the Mississippi Personhood campaign for state control of your uterus think. If this amendment passes, the resulting clause in the Mississippi constitution will not belong to the Personhood movement. It would not be theirs to decide how it is enforced. That question would belong to the government -- state and federal, legislative, executive and judicial.

Atlee Breland of Parents Against MS 26 has been wrestling with this from the beginning. Her formulation of the dilemma is one of the clearest I've seen:

"Yes On 26 hasn't offered a single shred of evidence to support their contention that IVF and birth control will be protected, and the text of the amendment certainly doesn't shed any light on the problem. They're asking you to take their word for it, and give up your absolute rights to privacy and property, for the vague promise that the legislature will get it right....Even my five-year-olds know that 'because I said so' isn't a very good answer. So far, though, that's the best answer the Yes On 26 campaign has offered up."

More: The House holds a hearing today on health reform and mandated coverage of birth control.