Posts tagged mississippi

No more abortions in Mississippi?

You probably recall that Mississippi residents last year voted down a constitutional amendment to change the legal definition of personhood to include fertilized human eggs. The amendment would have outlawed all abortions (including cases of rape or incest), many forms of birth control (including IUDs and morning-after pills), and embryonic research.

Since efforts to outright ban abortion in Mississippi have failed, lawmakers there are now pursuing a different track: work to put in place overwhelmingly stringent restrictions on abortion providers that could force them to shut their doors:

Mississippi lawmakers have passed a bill that would require any physician performing abortions in the state to be a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and to have admitting privileges at an area hospital.

The bill “should effectively close the only abortion clinic in Mississippi,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in a statement. “This is a strong bill that will effectively end abortion in Mississippi.”

The bill is in a period for comment before it will be sent to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who has said he wants Mississippi to become “abortion-free.”

"This legislation is an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women," he said.

If the state’s only abortion facility, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, closes, Mississippi women seeking abortions would have to leave the state.

In short: if you can’t ban a (legal and safe) practice, restrict it so much that it becomes unavailable. 

The good news: every doctor at Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a obstetrician-gynecologist. The bad news: only one has admitting privileges at an area hospital. The clinic’s owner, Diane Derzis, has vowed to fight to remain open: “We are going to do everything we can to remain there … we are not going to let the women of Mississippi down.”

You can help Derzis — and, for that matter, all women in Mississippi — by telling Gov. Phil Bryant to veto the bill.

That said, no matter what Bryant does, the law is probably destined to end up before a judge — which actually bodes well for reproductive rights advocates.

On defining a person

Last month on this blog we spent a good deal of time discussing the proposed constitutional amendment in Mississippi to change the legal definition of personhood to include fertilized human eggs. The amendment would have outlawed all abortions (including those resulting from rape or incest), many forms of birth control (including IUDs and morning-after pills), and embryonic research. Fortunately, it was rejected.

Yet while it might seem like common sense to most people that fertilized eggs are not persons, such thinking has important implications for the logic of the abortion debate, according to philosopher Gary Gutting:

The basic problem is that, once we give up the claim that a fertilized egg is a human person (has full moral standing), there is no plausible basis for claiming that all further stages of development are human persons.  The DNA criterion seems to be the only criterion of being human that applies at every stage from conception to birth.  If we agree that it does not apply at the earliest stages of gestation, there is no basis for claiming that every abortion is the killing of an innocent human person.

Those convinced that abortion is murder can, of course, maintain that this entire line of argument merely shows that we must hold that the fertilized egg is a human person: abortion is always wrong and it wouldn’t be if the fertilized egg weren’t a person. But what the Mississippi referendum showed was that many of those strongly opposed to abortion do not believe this.  They were not willing, for example, to forbid aborting pregnancies that result from rape or incest or that are necessary to save the mother’s life.  Many were also unwilling to charge fertility doctors who destroy frozen embryos with murder or to forbid after-fertilization birth control devices such as I.U.D.’s.

Couldn’t proponents of a personhood amendment allow exceptions for such cases?  Yes, but this would destroy the logic behind the amendment.

You can read Gutting’s full post on the New York Times' philosophy blog here.

The real problem in Mississippi

There’s been much public disussion recently on the now-failed Mississippi personhood amendment that would have changed the legal definition of personhood to include fertilized human eggs. Yet lost in the coverage of the arguments for and against the measure was an important fact:

There is only one abortion clinic in the entire state of Mississippi.

Of course, the personhood amendment would have had devastating consequences. But we should not forget that women in Mississippi still face enormous challenges in exercising their reproductive rights.

Unfortunately, this is part of a wider societal problem:

Nationwide, there are now fewer abortion providers in the U.S. than at any time since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 — 87 percent of U.S. counties don’t have one.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a survey of women who had third-term abortions found half of them had difficulties arranging to have an abortion.

Mississippi votes on personhood today

UPDATE: the so-called “personhood amendment” has been voted down.

Mississippi residents will vote today on a constitutional amendment to change the legal definition of personhood to include fertilized human eggs. The amendment would outlaw all abortions (including those resulting from rape or incest), many forms of birth control (including IUDs and morning-after pills), and embryonic research.

As previously discussed, the amendment is absurd both philosophically and legally. But as detailed by bioethicist Art Caplan, considering fertilized eggs as “persons” also flies in the face of what we know about medicine and science: 

This is what we know: During the period of embryonic development that begins with fertilization and ends with successful implantation, about 50 percent of human conceptions fail to survive. The main reason for this high failure rate is the inability of huge numbers of fertilized eggs to implant.  

What science has found is that around half of all conceptions don’t make it to implantation. Calling a fertilized egg a person flies in the face of this cruel biological reality. Half of all fertilized eggs cannot even become an embryo, much less a person.

Indeed, given the grim odds that face fertilized eggs, no one in science or medicine refers to a fertilized egg as an embryo unless it manages to implant. By talking about embryos and fertilized eggs as equivalent, supporters of Initiative 26 are not even using the correct scientific definition of an embryo.

If the rest of the story of human reproduction — as medicine and science know the facts to be — is brought to bear, things only get worse for Initiative 26.

Sadly, all too many couples know about the high rate of spontaneous abortion and stillbirth that haunts embryonic and fetal development. Roughly, one in six embryos will spontaneously abort or produce fetuses that do not develop properly and die in utero. 

There are a huge number of embryos that are not properly genetically programmed for life. Nearly all of these completely lack the biological ability to develop into anything resembling a viable baby.  Legislation — like that about to be voted on in Mississippi — that declares fertilized eggs to be persons from the moment of conception simply ignores that the failure rate of human embryos is very high.  A considerable number of embryos and fetuses never have any chance of producing a baby. 

Medicine and science know very well what many millions of heart-broken would be parents around the world know first-hand: To call all embryos “persons” flies in the face of spontaneous abortion, stillbirth and fetal death.

The Mississippi amendment is likely to pass, but it is unlikely to survive a court challenge. Yet don’t get complacent: several other states are already considering similar amendments, and the “personhood” movement is just one small part of a larger battle being waged by reproductive rights foes.

Cells as persons

On November 8, Mississippi residents will vote on a constitutional amendment to change the legal definition of personhood to include fertilized human eggs. Yes, you read that correctly: Mississippi might vote to outlaw all abortions (including those resulting from rape or incest), many forms of birth control (including IUDs and morning-after pills), and embryonic research. You can read more about this issue in today’s edition of the New York Times.

Philosophically speaking, the amendment is absurd. Personhood is typically granted to beings that have some degree of sentience, self-awareness, or agency. Fertilized human eggs clearly lack all three, as do fetuses until at least 28 weeks.

Legally speaking, while the amendment will likely pass, it will almost certainly be shot down in court — which has kept even some religious conservatives from supporting it:

Many leaders of the anti-abortion movement fear that the strategy will be counterproductive. Federal courts would almost surely declare the amendment unconstitutional, said James Bopp Jr., a prominent conservative lawyer from Terre Haute, Ind., and general counsel of National Right to Life, since it contradicts a woman’s current right to an abortion in the early weeks of pregnancy.

“From the standpoint of protecting unborn lives it’s utterly futile,” he said, “and it has the grave risk that if it did get to the Supreme Court, the court would write an even more extreme abortion policy.”

Bishop Joseph Latino of Jackson, Miss., said in a statement last week that the Roman Catholic Church does not support Proposition 26 because “the push for a state amendment could ultimately harm our efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade.”

Yet this fight does not begin and end with Mississippi. Similar legislative moves are being discussed in half a dozen other states, including Florida and Ohio. Furthermore, the “personhood” movement is just one small part of a larger battle being waged by reproductive rights foes:

The approach, granting legal rights to embryos, is fundamentally different from the abortion restrictions that have been adopted in dozens of states. These try to narrow or hamper access to abortions by, for example, sharply restricting the procedures at as early as 20 weeks, requiring women to view ultrasounds of the fetus, curbing insurance coverage and imposing expensive regulations on clinics.

Many of those laws have been overturned in the courts, but defenders of reproductive rights should not get complacent. So long as there are enough Americans who think abortion is morally deplorable, there will be legislative battles like the ones above. And since the moral landscape is not set for rapid change, reproductive rights defenders should remain vigilant.