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The New Abortion Battlefield

A controversial amendment on the ballot in Mississippi to say life begins at conception. We’ll look at the next abortion battlefront.

"Personhood" supporters gather at a prayer rally Monday, June 6, 2011 at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (AP)

"Personhood" supporters gather at a prayer rally Monday, June 6, 2011 at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (AP)

The abortion battle goes deep next Tuesday in the state of Mississippi. Voters there go to the polls to decide whether to write into the Mississippi constitution an amendment stating that life begins at conception. Sperm meets egg and you would have a legal person.

It would make abortion in any circumstance virtually impossible under the law. Backers of the so-called “personhood” movement hope to take it national. Use it to batter down Roe v Wade. Mississippi may be their first big victory.

This hour On Point: defining life from conception, and the future of abortion rights.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Randall Hines, physician and head of Mississippi Reproductive Medicine, a reproductive medicine and infertility clinic.

Jennifer Mason, Communications Director and national spokesperson for Personhood USA.

Dr. Beverly McMillan, Obstetrician and Gynecologist and President of Pro-Life Mississippi.

Jeffrey Hess, capital reporter, Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Highlights

Mississippi voters will consider an amendment to the state constitution next week that would legally define a person as such from the moment of conception. That would mean that abortions – and several methods of birth control – would constitute the taking of a life.

Supporters of the bill see it as just a first step within a larger push to end abortion. “I want abortion to go away from Mississippi,” said Dr. Beverly McMillan, an obstetrician and gynecologist and President of Pro-Life Mississippi.

Opponents, meanwhile, see it as an infringement on a woman’s constitutionally protected right to secure an abortion, as well as an intrusion of the government in the relationship between the doctor and patient – one that could make life-saving medical procedures, and even types of birth control, illegal.

“This is a real shift in the way that health care decisions are made,” said Randall Hines, physician and head of Mississippi Reproductive Medicine, and a supporter of the amendment. “If we pass this amendment, we’re going to insert state government into the medical decision making process in a way that’s never been done before.”

Enshrining personhood at the state level is a nationwide effort, but one that has been controversial even among anti-abortion groups. Some prominent groups have opposed the personhood movement; for fear that a failure could set back the anti-abortion cause.

Supporters of the Mississippi effort reject those criticisms. “Those groups have had over 30 years to do something about abortion,” said Jennifer Mason, Communications Director and national spokesperson for Personhood USA. “We’ve recognized that there is a loophole in Roe v. Wade, where Justice Potter Stewart said that if a case could be made for personhood, the case for abortion collapses.”

“There’s no loophole in the constitutional law,” argued Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The court decided clearly in Roe v. Wade that “person” does not include the unborn. It’s in the decision; it’s clear. This is an attempt to reverse Roe v. Wade.”

“Mississippi is both a socially conservative state and a religious state,” said Jeffrey Hess, capital reporter, Mississippi Public Broadcasting. “It is fertile ground for a movement that wants to end abortion nationwide.” He said that the anti-abortion measures often enjoy bi-partisan support in the state. “There’s a real likelihood that it will pass,” Hess said.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “A constitutional amendment facing voters in Mississippi on Nov. 8, and similar initiatives brewing in half a dozen other states including Florida and Ohio, would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person, effectively branding abortion and some forms of birth control as murder.”

CBS News “JACKSON, Miss. – A scientist who has worked for more than a quarter-century in reproductive medicine says a Mississippi ballot initiative could hinder the use of in vitro fertilization that helps some couples become parents.”

Salon “Mississippi debates a “Personhood” initiative that could ban the pill — but ultimately aims at Roe v. Wade”

More

You can find the Vote Yes on 26 page here.

The pro-choice critique of the personhood movement can be found here.

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