As Mississippi heads for a vote Tuesday on a proposed constitutional amendment to define personhood as beginning at conception, a group in Arkansas says it is preparing to submit a similar amendment to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
Preston Dunn Jr. and his wife, Dorothy Dunn, of Blytheville filed papers with the Arkansas Ethics Commission in September to create a ballot question committee called Personhood Arkansas to advocate for an amendment to the state constitution.
Preston Dunn, president of the group, told the Arkansas News Bureau today that tentative language for the proposed amendment reads: “No innocent person shall be denied the right to life. With respect to the right to life, the word ‘person’ applies to all human beings, including unborn offspring, at every stage of their biological development.”
Dunn, an electrician at a steel mill, said the group has four members now but will work to build a statewide alliance of like-minded churches, organizations and individuals. He said the group expects to have a proposed amendment ready to submit to McDaniel later this year or early next year.
If McDaniel approves the language, the group will have to collect 78,133 signatures by July 6 to place the proposed amendment on the November 2012 ballot.
And believe me, there’s enough anti-women forces out there to help push this along. How extreme is the personhood amendment? Well for starters, it’s so extreme that doctor’s who perform working to save a woman’s life would be arrested and prosecuted for murder:
[Mississippi Medical Association President Dr. Tom] Joiner and other opponents of Initiative 26 are concerned that by attempting to criminalize abortion, the initiative will criminalize routine medical practice that intentionally or not terminates a pregnancy. There is no mention in the initiative of an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, nor for the health of the mother, as in the case of life-threatening conditions such as ectopic or molar pregnancies. (In an ectopic pregnancy the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, most often in the fallopian tube; in a molar pregnancy the fertilized egg becomes an abnormal growth such as a tumor rather than a fetus.)
“These pregnancies were not meant to go on to be people and we don’t think calling them persons is going to do any good for the patients that carry them nor the pregnancies themselves,” said Tupelo obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Wayne Slocum, vice chair of the Mississippi section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
It’s so extreme, that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who couldn’t even count as moderate, says he may not vote for it and that plenty of normally anti-choice advocates are alarmed by the amendment’s language:
BARBOUR: I believe life begins at conception. Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn’t say that. It says life begins at fertilization, or cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning. And I’m talking about people that are very, outspokenly pro-life. [...]
TODD: How are you voting on it?
BARBOUR: Really I haven’t decided. If you would have asked me when this was first proposed, I would’ve said A, the legislature would’ve passed it 100 to 1. And B, I believe life begins at conception and therefore I would be for it. I am concerned about some of the ramifications on in vitro fertilization and [ectopic] pregnancies where pregnancies [occur] outside the uterus and [in] the fallopian tubes. That concerns me, I have to just say it.
It’s so extreme, it could force changes in in vitro fertilization that would make the process less likely to conceive and more dangerous:
In September, Mississippi’s Supreme Court ruled that a ballot initiative to amend the state’s constitution to define embryos as persons could go forward in November. Since then, Dr. Randall Hines, one of four physicians in the state who perform in vitro fertilization, has been fielding panicked calls from women with fertility problems. “We have patients calling us who are extremely anxious,” he says. “If they are contemplating IVF, they’re asking, ‘Do I need to go ahead and do it right now, before this becomes law?’” [...]
The so-called Personhood Amendment won’t outlaw all IVF, but it could drastically change how it’s practiced, making it less effective and more dangerous. “It’s certainly possible that certain IVF practices would become illegal,” says Hines. “It could alter the way an individual patient and physician would interact. Quite honestly nobody knows what would happen, because this is uncharted territory.
Right-wing supporters of Mississippi’s personhood amendment, however, decry the fact that the bill will ban birth control as “scare tactics.” “It’s an outright lie that Initiative 26 would ban birth control pills,” said American Family Association Executive Director Brad Prewitt. “Stopping a pregnancy is not the issue; ending a pregnancy is.” Unfortunately for proponents, the Personhood movement spokesman Walter Hoye stated the opposite on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show. As the Florida Independent reports, when asked if there were any restrictions on birth control in the amendment, Hoye answered “no…well, yes,” adding, “any birth control that ends the life of a human being will be impacted by this measure,” including the pill:
HOYE: Any birth control that ends the life of a human being will be impacted by this measure.
REHM: So that would then include the IUD [intra-uterine device]. What about the birth control pill?
HOYE: If that falls into the same category, yes.
REHM: So you’re saying that the birth control pill could be considered as taking the life of a human being?
HOYE: I’m saying that once the egg and the oocyte come together and you have that single-celled embryo, at that point you have human life, you’ve got a human being and we’re taking the life of a human being with some forms of birth control and if birth control falls into that category, yes I am.
Mercifully, the U.S. Constitution would trump this thing if it did make it to ratification and this extreme and dangerous measure is unlikely to survive a court challenge. On top of that, it’s a long way to go to getting this on the ballot, and if it can be stopped in its tracks it should be.