The vexing problem of 'personhood.'

Mississippi voters on Nov. 8 will decide whether a human person is created at the moment of  conception. It is the key question, but largely ignored in the abortion debate. Human life, as science tells us, does indeed begin at conception. But the question of when that human life becomes endowed with all the rights and privileges of a person is a legal, philosophical, ethical and moral issue question of immense consequence.

In Mississippi, this hotly debated question will be decided by a vote. A proposed state constitutional amendment reads:

 Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.

The question (called proposition 26) was placed on the ballot after proponents collected the required 106,000 certified voter signatures. It is the manifestation of the growing "personhood" movement, inspired by pro-life activists and vehemently opposed by pro-choice activists.

The pro-life argument can be found here, on the Vote Yes on 26 website. A pro-choice argument is here on the "Jezebel" website. One thing that both sides seem to agree on: The amendment would end abortion, even in cases of rape.

But even as someone who is pro-life, I think the constitutional amendment is problematic. Should we also have a constitutional amendment that defines when a person's life ends? The legal complications are immense, if not unimaginable.

My own belief is that from the moment of conception, all the defining qualities of "personhood," if you will, are present. All the genetic material that define an individual as an individual is present. It is a self-actuating organism. There is a moment of actual creation, of a qualitative change from what existed before. True, from its first moment of existence, a zygote is dependent on others for sustenance. But aren't we all? The degree of dependence of a zygote, a fetus, a newborn, a child and indeed everyone is just that--a matter of degree. Do we define when someone is a person by the degree of his dependency? We're all in trouble if that's the case.

Is there a middle ground in a democracy short of a constitutional amendment or a supreme court mandate?

I have suggested that a compromise legal and political position that might receive public support would be defining a person using the same standard we use when defining death--the presence or absence of brain wave activity. It's not a perfect measure, and won't satisfy personhood advocates. But it would allow moderation of the status quo, so rigidly defended by the most extreme pro-choicers. Under the Supreme Court's Roe  v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, issued simultaneously, an abortion is legal at any time, even up to the "moment" of birth.

That, of course, would require the Supreme Court to relax its vice-like grip on the abortion debate. Can we hope?


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  • Why don't the "Right-to-Lifers" campaign to get Men to use Condoms whenever they "do it"; that would remove any needs for abortion ever.

    Uh-Oh, that will NEVER work - there's no problem with intruding into Women's lives any way you want to; but you don't D A R E attempt to intrude into a Man's life.

    I mean, be serious - Men are untouchable.

  • In reply to mikep621:

    You are getting us off the track a bit, but as Garrett Morris once said, condoms leak, and besides that, the religious creed Dennis espouses doesn't believe in condoms, the last I heard.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm not "off track" in any way - unless you mean that I don't look at things STRICTLY from a Religious Male's point of view (on that you are exactly right).

    Just great, so they'll do NOTHING to prevent an unwanted pregnancy; but
    will mentally crucify the woman (ONLY)
    when a MAN gets her knocked up.

  • "I mean, be serious - Men are untouchable"

    Did you happen to get a look at Moammar Gadhafi last week?

  • In reply to PatHickey:

    I meant in the context of abortion.

  • That, of course, would require the Supreme Court to relax its vice-like grip on the abortion debate. Can we hope?

    Well, given that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor created the current construct and there are now 3 female justices more liberal than her on the court, as a practical matter, no.

    The other things these numb nuts can't figure out, sort of like the ones in Alabama and Arizona, is that state law can't supersede the U.S. Constitution. So while One thing that both sides seem to agree on: The amendment would end abortion, even in cases of rape., no it won't. However, it may have unintended consequences, like on the meaning of "wrongful death" under state tort law, or whether it is homicide if someone shoots a pregnant woman (although in most cases it now is).

  • Folks, I proposed a compromise on the abortion issue: defining personhood as the beginning of brain wave activity. Do you have any thoughts on that?

    No, I'm not proposing a constitutional amendment to define personhood that way, only to clarify our thoughts and perhaps the next time to write better decisions than Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.

  • I have made these observations while being marooned here on "Earth" (Mr. Spock amongst the artichokes):

    The whole abortion "thing" is part of the Worldwide All-of-History long effort to keep Women's Wombs under Men's Iron Thumbs

    If M E N had to carry and endure Labor to deliver Babies:

    Abortion would be the most cherished right of All Humanity down through A L L of History - right up until today.

    The FIRST Commandment would be: "Thou shalt have abortion whenever thou shalt choose as The Lord commands"

    The FIRST Article of the U.S. Constitution would be: "ALL Men have the unimpeded Right to an Abortion whenever they shall choose for whatever reason".

    In the U.S. today - there would be 10 Minute Drive-Thru No ID Needed In-and-Out Abortion Clinics on each-and-every street corner from "sea to shining sea".

    Women would have N O say whatsoever in the matter under pain of Execution by Firing Squad or Incineration (women's choice).

  • Again, I tried to offer a thoughtful compromise. What I get back from Mike621 is invective and platitudes.

  • Dennis, you are right - there is/was hostile invective, BUT NOT "platitudes".

    Those things I said are T R U E, that has no effect on the REAL situation where Women carry the babies (and may or may not seek abortion for whatever reason).

    And like I said on an earlier post, nobody says SH YT to men about PREVENTING pregnancies - only what women should or shouldn't do AFTER men make them pregnant.

    Conservatives want to teach NOTHING but abstinence in schools - but NOBODY but NOBODY would D A R E suggest "abstinence" to Adult Men (whom are half of getting pregnant).

    Why don't MEN have to see sonograms before they're allowed to PUT IT IN, to see what their actions might result in??

    Women should do that "Lysistrata" thing until some way was found to level the playing field.

    "No abortion even in cases of rape or incest".

    If a MAN got raped and pregnant - that little bastard would be yanked out of there so fast it'd almost break Light-speed - like the Millennium Falcon (at whatever time after conception).

    I read enough on the News every day about people who SHOULD have been aborted (murderers at Indian Head Park, Churches Chicken on 87th & King Dr., Skokie, E. 79th St., etc., etc., etc.....)

    At least I'm not to Forced Sterilization - yet.


  • Immediately after "conception" the ENTIRE WEIGHT of the State and Federal Justice Systems falls upon the Woman (ONLY), she must confront and be subject to all kinds of varying laws, rules, and regulations (depending on her location); and may be FORCED to see "the life inside her" to influence her decision on something that will affect the rest of her, and the child's life (if she has any choice).

    The Man can just walk away.

  • I entirely agree that men should be held accountable. The baby should be tested for DNA and the father nailed. Non-support would be a criminal offense. Again, you've lumped men and conservatives into one bag and condemned them all.

    Let me ask again, but in a different way: Does the fetus/baby in the womb have any rights; is it at any time to be considered a human person prior to the severing of the umbilical cord?

  • OK Dennis, I will say what you want me to say, and you won't like it.

    The Egg once fertilized with sperm has the potential to become a human being, is it human at conception - I suppose so.

    Is aborting it at any point murder - yes, you could say that.

    I still believe it is a woman's right (ONLY) to decide whether to carry it to term.

    If you want to avoid the possibility of murder, people should have to register and file life financial statements as to whether they can support "the life" they might create before they can have sex.

    I know you WOULDN'T believe it Dennis - but I know 'humans"; and as I said (sci-fi) if Men had to carry and deliver them - YOUR opinion and outlook on the WHOLE situation would be 180 degrees different ("abortion is a God given right - The First Commandment")

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