Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Hurrah for Mississippi!

by Edd Doerr

On Tuesday, Nov 8, voters in poor, downtrodden Mississippi smacked down by a landslide margin a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have outlawed abortion, even to save a woman's life and in cases of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and several forms of contraception by declaring that human "personhood" begins when an egg is fertilized. This amendment was part of the strategy of the misogynist anti-choice movement to have a number of legislatures pass such amendments in order to steer a lawsuit to a Supreme Court that might then reverse Roe v Wade.

The Mississippi vote was thus a tremendous victory for common sense, women's rights, freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Polls shortly before the referendum seemed to show that voter opinion was divided about 45 to 45, and anti-choicers were expecting a win.

As someone who has been a pro-choice activist for well over 50 years, I never cease to be amazed at the nonsense extruded by the religious right on the subject of abortion rights. They claim that the Bible supports the "personhood at conception" idea, yet that is not in the Bible. The New Testament does not condemn abortion and the OT uses the term "nefesh" for person, having to do with breathing, to refer to babies after they are born. The most eminent Christian theologian, Thomas Aquinas, believed that fetuses are "insouled" weeks after conception. As for science, the majority opinion was expressed by Isaac Asimov when he wrote that personhood requires a functioning brain. In the late 198os I cooked up an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in the Webster v Reproductive Health Services case that was signed by 12 Nobel laureate biologists (including Francis Crick) and 150 other distinguished biologists that expressed the view that the functions of personhood are not possible until the cerebral cortex is wired up and functioning, some time after 28-32 weeks of gestation. The brief, regarded by the NOW as the most powerful one filed in the case, is reprinted in the ARL book Compulsory Pregnancy: The War Against American Women, by John M. Swomley (available from ARL, Box 6656, Silver Spring, Md 20916, for $10).

I would also like to make the point that Christians believe that persons are "created in the image of God". Since this has nothing to do with flesh and blood and DNA, but, rather, with the capability for consciousness and will, the use of religion to deny women reproductive choice is transparent and phony, about what one might expect from the Old Boys Club on the Tiber and the ultraconservatives of the Christian right.

Shifting gears, let me recommend Jill Lepore's excellent 12-page article "Birthright" in the Nov 14, 2011, New Yorker. She sumarizes the history of the struggle over access to family planning and abortion rights in the US. I would add only two items to the Lepore piece: 1. A word of appreciation for the decades of activism by unsung hero Bill Baird on behalf of access to contraception and abortion rights (the Baird v Eisenstadt case paved the way for the expansive Roe v Wade ruling; and Baird, like Rodney Daingerfield, "don't get no respect"); and 2. A word about the 1975 Nixon/Ford administration National Security Study Memorandum 200 report "Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for US Security and Overseas Interests", which was started by Nixon, endorsed by Ford, and then mysteriously classified and buried for nearly 20 years (The NSSM 200 report is included in Stephen D. Mumford's 1996 book The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a US Population Policy [the 579-page hardback is available for $32 from the Center for Research on Population and Security, Box 13067, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709]).

Lepore's New Yorker piece notes that Nixon began the drive by the GOP to increase its strength by attracting Catholic and conservative Protestant voters by opposing family planning. Yet it was Nixon who actually promoted family planning.

Lepore makes this intesting comment: "In June of 1972, a Gallup poll reported that 68% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats agreed that 'the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her physician.' 56% of Catholics thought so too." And now it is Democrats who are defenders of reproductive choice and Republicans, like the collection of midgets seeking the GOP nomination, who have joined the extreme right in opposing women's rights.


lucette said...

Yes, congratulations to the great people of Mississippi! I would like to add still another consideration to Edd's post. It concerns the credibility of American science and reason: The emergence of human-hood cannot be decided by a vote. In fact, even science must be supported by an enlightened, ethical, and prudent consensus in this important decision. There are many other concerns, but it will be for another day since we can afford to relax for the time being.

Edd.Doerr said...

The question of personhood arises in three contexts: When does personhood cease? When does it begin, as in the Mississippi situation and the abortion rights fights? And when in the evolution of humans can we say that personhood began? I have given much thought to these questions and will soon present something on this blog and elsewhere.