After reading this morning’s New York Times article about a constitutional amendment in Mississippi which would “declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person,” I have all sorts of questions for Personhood USA, the group that advocates for this issue nationally.
By all accounts, the proposed “Yes on 26" amendment will pass in Mississippi and elsewhere on November 8. I won’t bore you with all of my concerns about what I have elsewhere referred to as “zygote fetishism.” But please indulge me in considering the following scenario.
Let’s say a God-fearing Evangelical Christian woman, an upstanding citizen of Jackson, has sex within the bounds of monogamous union with her husband.
Let’s say the fortuitous union of egg and sperm subsequently occurs. And let’s say--this is nowhere out of the ordinary--that neither the woman nor her husband have any idea that fertilization has actually come to pass.
This Evangelical couple--they’re not Puritans after all!--likes to drink and smoke socially. They proceed to do so on a nightly basis for a good few weeks. In the process the woman does irreparable damage to the developing fetus which she had no idea was growing inside her. For purposes of argument let’s say that she essentially “kills” the developing fetus in the process.
Some questions: Is the God-fearing woman now a murderer according to Mississippi state law? Is her husband an accomplice to murder? Who will or should report the homicide in question to the local authorities? Ought the woman turn herself in? And if so, to what agency? How will the agency proceed to examine the circumstances of the crime? Will an ultrasound technician serve as the star witness for the prosecution (or will such technicians be deputized to apprehend murderers)? How will the state of Mississippi afford to prosecute, potentially, thousands of such cases a year.
Last question: If the woman were a liberal, non-Evangelical, sophomore at the University of Mississippi who went to an abortion clinic in a neighboring state, would authorities treat her and the hypothetical Evangelical woman above in exactly the same way?
These are, admittedly, a lot of questions. Especially given the fact that the whole Personhood Rights movement is probably a mere trial balloon meant to gauge public response, sharpen legal strategy, and hurl the national conversation about reproductive freedoms towards premises that are useful to the extremist religious right.