by Edd Doerr
On 9/8/11 the Mississippi Supreme Court declined by a 7-2 vote to halt a November referendum on a proposed amendment to the state constitution (Measure 26) that would grant "personhood" status to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses. If passed, and not shot down by the federal or state courts, Measure 26 would outlaw all abortions in the state and probably some forms of contraception.
This story was reported in the ultraright Washington Times, but ignored by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
This measure is intended to deny all women reproductive freedom of conscience and to impose a particular theological doctrine on everyone in the state.
When Roe v Wade acknowledged (not created) the constitutional right of women to choose to terminate problem pregnancies, the opposition came almost entirely from the Catholic hierarchy. Only later, when Protestant fundamentalists saw that Roe liberated women from patriarchalism, did they jump on the anti-choice bandwagon.
All this is rather curious, as the Bible does not actually condemn abortion or even hold that personhood might begin before actual birth. Indeed, the Hebrew ("Old Testament") word for person is "nefesh", meaning something that breathes. Christians generally subscribe to the view that humans are "created in the image of God". Whatever this means, it has nothing to do with flesh and blood and DNA, but, rather, with the consciousness and will, both of which are not possible in a fetus until a level of brain development reached some time after 28-32 weeks of gestation.
This view was put before the US Supreme Court in an amicus curiae brief that I engineered in the case of Webster v Reproductive Health Services. The brief was signed by 12 Nobel laureate biologists and 155 other distinguished scientists. (There would have been a very great many more, but the Supreme Court calendar required a measure of haste. Francis Crick was one of the laureates. In the rush to get the scientists on board I rang up Crick's office in California. He was on holiday but had returned to his office for something and was passing his secretary's desk when my call went through. He answered -- we had met earlier while I was AHA VP -- and the rest is history.)
The Webster brief may be found in John Swomley's book Compulsory Pregnancy: The War Against American Women, published by Americans for Religious Liberty and available from ARL, Box 6656, Silver Spring, MD 20916 for $10.
With the all out attack by Republicans, Tea Partyers and the religious right in full swing this year, the Mississippi referendum is important. If Mississippians have any sense, they will send this monstrous attack on freedom down the drain.
By the way, it is important to note that the fight over reproductive choice is not between the religious and the nonreligious. Among the strong defenders of reproductive choice are the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (on whose governing body I served for 30 years) and Catholics for Choice, publishers of the superb quarterly journal Conscience.