This Tuesday, Mississippians will vote on Initiative 26, a “personhood” amendment to the state constitution that defines a person as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” This “profoundly ambiguous” amendment will deliberately trample on a woman’s reproductive health and privacy, essentially criminalizing abortion, outlawing contraception like the birth control pill, and even preventing couples from having a child through in vitro fertilization.
It is these consequences that leave even the most staunch anti-choice activists cold. The National Right to Life organization has refused to promote it. Even the Catholic Bishops have refused to endorse the amendment, noting that the bill is so extreme, it could jeopardize their more serious efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade:
In the letter [Jackson Bishop Joseph Latino] called Personhood Mississippi “a noble initiative.” However, he said, “I join with Catholic bishops in several other states in not endorsing personhood petitions to be circulated in our Catholic parishes. We have committed ourselves to working for a federal amendment and feel the push for a state amendment could ultimately harm our efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Numerous religious leaders, who joined Bishop Latino at a press conference to speak out against the bill, were more forthright in their denunciations. “It is a blunt instrument which, if passed, will harm Mississippi women and their families both physically and spiritually,” said Rabbi Debra Kassoff. “Because God has sanctified not only fetal life, but all life, we urge Mississippians to vote against Initiative 26.”
In fact, religious leaders are taking issue with the personhood movement’s foundational idea that such amendments comply with “divine law” as defined by biblical text. The Interfaith Center of New York’s Rev. Chloe Breyer and Rabbis for Human Rights’ Rabbi Jill Jacobs both insisted that the biblical text that “life at conception” activists often rely on is actually “invoked to support the rights of a woman to have an abortion” as it conveys the idea that “the fetus does not achieve personhood until emerging from the womb.”
Breyer also notes that Christian representatives have long argued against the idea that life beings at conception. Saint Augustine actually wrote on the question of “personhood” and “ascribed to the idea of delayed ‘ensoulment” in which the fetus did not “receive a human soul” until a certain number of days after conception. In 1994, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church expressed its “unequivocal opposition” to any action that would “abridge the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of her pregnancy, or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting upon her decision.”