Push to Declare a Fertilized Egg a 'Person' Offers New Tack on Abortion Debate

A constitutional amendment facing Mississippi voters on Nov. 8 that would declare a fertilized human egg a legal person is poised to reshape the national debate on abortion.

The Mississippi initiative, similar to ones in about six other states including Florida and Ohio, could effectively brand abortion and some forms of birth control as murder, The New York Times reports.

The so-called “personhood amendments” have pro-life advocates and abortion proponents at odds,  with many doctors and women’s health advocates saying the proposals would cause a dangerous intrusion of criminal law into medical care, jeopardizing women’s rights and even their lives.

According to the paper, the amendment in Mississippi would ban virtually all abortions, including those resulting from rape or incest. It would bar some birth control methods, including IUDs and “morning-after pills” that prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. It would also outlaw the destruction of embryos created in laboratories.

“This is the most extreme in a field of extreme anti-abortion measures that have been before the states this year,” Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group, told The Times.

Opponents, who were handing out brochures on Saturday to tailgate partiers before the University of Southern Mississippi football game in Hattiesburg, said they hoped to dispel the impression that the amendment simply bars abortions — a popular idea in Mississippi — by warning that it would also limit contraceptives, make doctors afraid to save women with life-threatening pregnancies and possibly hamper in vitro fertility treatments.

But many leaders of the anti-abortion movement fear the amendment 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.”