Political Animal


October 28, 2011 10:45 AM Get to know the ‘Personhood’ Amendment

By Steve Benen

Opponents of abortion rights have been pushing constitutional amendments — at the federal and state level — for nearly four decades, so at a certain level, the “personhood” proposal on the ballot in Mississippi may not seem extraordinary. After all, as is well known, pro-life activists consider embryos and fetuses to be people.

But this isn’t just another state initiative.

A constitutional amendment facing voters in Mississippi on Nov. 8, and similar initiatives brewing in half a dozen other states including Florida and Ohio, would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person, effectively branding abortion and some forms of birth control as murder.

With this far-reaching anti-abortion strategy, the proponents of what they call personhood amendments hope to reshape the national debate.

“I view it as transformative,” said Brad Prewitt, a lawyer and executive director of the Yes on 26 campaign, which is named for the Mississippi proposition. “Personhood is bigger than just shutting abortion clinics; it’s an opportunity for people to say that we’re made in the image of God.”

No matter what one thinks of the campaign, the part about this being “bigger than just shutting abortion clinics” is absolutely true. The “personhood” measure would ban every possible form of abortion, but it also goes much further.

There’s been some great reporting on this lately, including this piece from Kate Sheppard who explained this week that an approved “personhood” amendment would “likely outlaw several types of birth control and possibly make all forms of hormonal contraception illegal.” Irin Carmon had a related piece, noting that the initiative “would almost certainly ban common forms of birth control like the IUD and the morning-after pill, call into question the legality of the common birth-control pill, and even open the door to investigating women who have suffered miscarriages.”

Michelle Goldberg, meanwhile, added that the “personhood” amendment would also very likely prohibit couples from using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to have children.

In other words, we’re talking about a very radical proposal. The next question is, do national Republicans support this?

Mitt Romney was recently asked whether he would have supported a similar measure as governor, and he replied, “Absolutely.” So, does this mean he supports the “personhood” measure in Mississippi? Keith Mason, co-founder of a group supporting the Mississippi’s initiative, Personhood USA, told Politico, “We always seem to get two stories from Romney.”

Imagine that.

Last week, Rachel Maddow took Romney to task, and offered a helpful lesson on the sexual-health basics, in case the former governor needed a refresher. Rachel added that Romney “apparently does not understand” the idea that he, as Romney himself put it, “absolutely” endorses.

If some enterprising campaign reporters could get to the bottom of this, and determine whether Romney supports “personhood” amendments or not, voters would benefit from knowing the answer.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • just bill on October 28, 2011 10:52 AM:

    would these a**holes please move to another planet and leave us alone?

  • Hedda Peraz on October 28, 2011 11:00 AM:

    As a Christian, let me remind all that "every sperm is sacred", and our new ballot initiative (OK69) in Texas will require that Kleenex samples will be gathered weekly from all waste cans within ten feet of a computer with an internet connection.

  • Basilisc on October 28, 2011 11:03 AM:

    Is this the moment when the Right, following its strongly held principles to their logical conclusion, finally marches off the deep end? And the rest of America finally realizes that the Right's "values" are in fact diametrically opposed to those of the rest of us?

    I've thought it was happening before, and it wasn't, so I'm not getting too hopeful. But I'm still hoping.

  • sublime33 on October 28, 2011 11:04 AM:

    18 years ago, my wife and I went through in vitro process. Eight eggs were removed. Seven were successfully fertilized. Five were implanted and one survived and is a healthy 17 year old today. So instead of celebrating the life of our daughter, do I have to worry about child abandonment charges for the two "left behind" fertilized eggs? Do we get investigated for the four "miscarried children"? Should we have held a funeral?

    What in the hell is wrong with these people?

  • Grumpy on October 28, 2011 11:04 AM:

    "...we’re made in the image of God."

    They laughed when I said God looked exactly like a single-celled blob. Laughed! But now Mississippi will put it into law. Who's laughing now?

  • Celia on October 28, 2011 11:09 AM:

    Amanda Marcotte had a good discussion on this issue:


    I think her point that we can fight these personhood bills and get the science right: i.e., the pill and other contraceptives basically work by preventing conception in the first place. The right is hoping that people will buy into their version of science (contraceptives "kill" fertilized eggs) and thus they have launched a front door attack on the right to abortion and a back door attack on contraception. Let's get the science right and slam the back door in their faces.

  • Gandalf on October 28, 2011 11:10 AM:

    Well the states with tyhe most ignorant,most undereducated, and most impoverished are working hard to keep it that way. Mississippi is no 1 in all those categories. They can be proud.

  • paul on October 28, 2011 11:12 AM:

    Actually, there's no solid evidence that any kind of hormonal birth control acts to prevent implantation, rather than to prevent ovulation.

    But it's way bigger than that, because it means every miscarriage would demand an investigation, and every period following unprotected sex ditto.

    Meanwhile, AFDC, EITC and other expenditures would go up, because legally speaking you'd have to assume every household with a woman in it to have one more member unless proven otherwise...

  • Trollop on October 28, 2011 11:14 AM:

    Okay, mention the g-word and I lose it..
    I guess you "turn the other cheek" when women bleed to death after a wire hanger abortion! Yeah, that's what Jebus meant! These people should have their personhood(s) permanently revoked! I'm so sick and fucking tired of mythology in the 21st century!

  • siameese.cities on October 28, 2011 11:15 AM:

    Besides watching this country go to shite at the hands of republicans, the sad or even, depressing part about it is: the state of the economy doesn't let people get out of this situation...

    There's clearly nothing we can do in ridiculously red states like Mississippi or South Carolina (where I live) these conservatives are so deeply entrenched and convinced that no elections or polling will stop the red tide of screwing the poor, or violating women's rights.

    So what option is left? LEAVE... but I personally can't just pick up and move to another state, and I'm not in a bad position in life. Thousands, if not millions of other people who opposes these measures can't do anything about it but just take it...

    They can't skip a day of work to #occupy anything lest they lose their crappy job. They don't have enough credit, or income to secure an apartment, good luck trying to find another job in another state so you could leave and not have to be in such a small minded ideological government.

    it's all very messed up.

  • c u n d gulag on October 28, 2011 11:18 AM:

    Hedda Peraz,

    Yes, and ALL socks must be presented UNWASHED to the nearest "Forced Labor Camp" official in your area!

    And the penalty for failing to respect "LIFE" is DEATH!

    Ah, Captch, 'ssicco from' indeed.
    Well, in this case, Mississippi. But there's a shitload all around this country.

  • biggerbox on October 28, 2011 11:18 AM:

    I think support for these amendments opens the door for asking whether the candidates have ever used birth control, and if so, what specific types? (These questions should especially be asked of any Republicans who spent time talking about anything having to do with Monica Lewinsky.)
    Does Mrs. Romney use an IUD? How about Mrs. Perry? I think we need a statement from their doctors.

    If the GOP thinks it's appropriate to fight for amendments that put the government in our bedrooms, how about we start by getting into their bedrooms first. Let's see how they like it.

  • Christiaan on October 28, 2011 11:19 AM:

    Comparing the recent Smitherman family contributions to Perry, can fertilized eggs contribute to Republican campaigns with this amendment? Think of the potential!

  • Jim Keating on October 28, 2011 11:28 AM:

    I guess we have reached the point where menstruation
    will be considered abortion.

  • Stetson Kennedy on October 28, 2011 11:39 AM:

    So where does this all lead? Do we charge women who have miscarriages with reckless manslaughter? I mean, they should have taken better care of their uteruses!

    Even this uber-right SCOTUS would shoot anything like this down. This isn't a slippery slope, it's an ice sheet on Everest.

  • K in VA on October 28, 2011 11:55 AM:

    This reduces a woman to nothing more than an incubator.

  • arkie on October 28, 2011 11:56 AM:

    Can anyone explain how the effects of this amendment differ from from Romania's Decree no. 770/1966:

    All women were forced to go for a gynaecological control every month, this monthly health control representing the requirement for receiving medical care8. The pregnancies detected were monitored until term. In this way, the possibilities to provoke an empirical abortion were almost totally annihilated. The law was extremely severe, numerous gynaecologists as well as women who resorted to this method paying with
    years of prison their trial to avoid it.

    At the same time the law punished the sale of modern contraceptive means which, as a result, disappeared from the specialised shops. All persons over 25 years old who did not have children (excepting those who had valid medical infertility problems) were punished for celibate, paying 30 per cent tax on income.

    There were only a few situations when the abortion could be provided in legal conditions: if the pregnancy put the mother's life in danger, if a chronicle disease of mother could endanger the child health, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape. Specialised commissions composed of gynaecologists assisted by a public prosecutor and a Secret Political Policy officer were charged to approve the abortion.

    On the other hand, the sexual education was almost non-existent. In the official discourses on this topic, the accent was focused on the happiness of being mother, on the satisfactions of being a "heroic mother" who gives many and healthy children to the
    homeland. Mass media and movies always presented the relationships between men and women only in a platonic, idealistic way, without saying anything about how to detect in time an undesirable pregnancy, or about how to avoid it.


  • TCinLA on October 28, 2011 12:02 PM:

    Now the real truth about the "pro-life" movement comes out.

    These people were exercised about Griswold v. Connecticut (the 1965 decision that people had a right to birth control information and materials) than they were about Roe v. Wade. It was just easier to campaign against Roe than to go after Griswold, a far more popular decision since it allows people to "do it" without having to worry about "family matters."

    All fundamentalists always want to control sexuality - whichever old guy in a bedsheet in the sky they believe in.

  • majun on October 28, 2011 12:07 PM:

    So I take it that if 26 passes all pregnant women in Mississippi will be held accountable for the welfare of their "babies" in utero, right? If it is found that a woman took a drink of alcohol, or smoked a cigarette after conception that would be child abuse, right? And without access to normal forms of birth control, that would mean that every woman in the state would have to abstain from ingesting anything that could pose a harm to the possible "human being" in their uterus, at least until they got a reliable pregnancy test. I wonder how women will feel about losing control of their lives for days or even weeks after each act of intercourse?

    Reductio ad absurdum, you gotta love it!!

  • Gretchen on October 28, 2011 12:33 PM:

    @Hedda Peraz: I laughed when I read your post, but then realized that 10 years ago we would have thought the idea of anybody wanting to ban birth control was absurd. Maybe you're giving them ideas....

  • Gretchen on October 28, 2011 12:37 PM:

    @Hedda Peraz: I laughed when I read your post, but then realized that 10 years ago we would have thought the idea of anybody wanting to ban birth control was absurd. Maybe you're giving them ideas....
    and @biggerbox: I love your idea too.

  • plane on October 28, 2011 12:43 PM:

    New Rule! All sexually active women must now wear diapers to save the embryos!
    Read this for the explanation:
    Is Heaven Populated Chiefly by the Souls of Embryos?

  • maggie on October 28, 2011 1:29 PM:

    So I assume when a woman dies in childbirth, the baby will be charged with murder?

  • majun on October 28, 2011 1:45 PM:

    So I assume when a woman dies in childbirth, the baby will be charged with murder?

    Don't be absurd!! By long accepted law, the baby would be a juvenile and, by law, incapable of the mens rea necessary for a murder charge. If you can show negligence on the part of fetus, maybe a charge of involuntary manslaughter might stand.

  • Take Them at Their Turd on October 28, 2011 1:48 PM:

    But wait — there's more!

    What happens if a pregnant woman commits a felony? Will the unborn child — whoops, no, strike that — "the person" in her womb now be charged as an accessory? Clearly, "the person" acted in concert with the pregnant woman (and indeed may have aided and abetted her attempt to escape capture if the pregnant woman used this person to deflect suspicion). "Equal protection under the law" works both ways, doesn't it? If a 22-year-old person can be charged as an accessory, why wouldn't the statute in question apply to a, um, negative-three-month-old person?

    (Just to be clear, I'd hope that this person, upon exiting the womb, would be sent to juvenile detention rather than prison — but only after his/her day in court, of course.)

    We're governed by idiots.

  • sparrow on October 28, 2011 2:01 PM:

    My guess is that the answer that some enterprising campaign reporters would get from Romney about his view would depend on which day of the week it was given. That seems to be the variable factor in nailing down some sort of definitive answer.

  • exlibra on October 28, 2011 5:05 PM:

    [...] without access to normal forms of birth control,[...]-- majun, @12:07

    Everyone has access to one, quite "normal", form of birth control. I suspect that the guys who're now trying to legislate the "personhood" of every sacred sperm (for ever and ever, amen) might not like it, but there it is:


    103, ositudy. In Craptcha, that means page 103 of the study of boners.