In a recent op-ed in the Clarion Ledger, a University of Mississippi law professor says that the so-called “Personhood” movement could have detrimental effects not only on the rights of women, but on those of families, as well.
Fetal “Personhood” initiatives have cropped up in states across the U.S., including Florida, but it is in Mississippi where the measure has found the most support. Amendment 26, which aims to outlaw abortion but could have a host of unintended consequences, has been endorsed by the state’s current lieutenant governor and attorney general. Even Democrats in the state have been cautious in opposing personhood. In fact, in its quest to find detractors of the bill, the Huffington Post could only find one Democratic senator willing to go on the record opposing the amendment.
“As personhood is defined in the proposed amendment, it could have sweeping consequences for all whose lives are linked to that of a reproducing woman,” writes Michele Alexandre, associate professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. “This becomes apparent when the amendment is read along with Mississippi’s current homicide statute (Section of 97-3-19 of the Mississippi Code). Pursuant to the homicide statute, if personhood is defined according to Amendment 26, any actions having a negative effect on pregnancy, even in the first few weeks, could be prosecuted.”
Alexandre goes on to give the example of a woman who is unknowingly pregnant being prosecuted for causing harm to a fetus. “If a woman, unaware that she is pregnant, chooses to drink alcohol or to train for a strenuous physical competition for the first time in her life, the amendment might serve as a springboard to prosecute her for a crime (whether it be murder, manslaughter or reckless endangerment) if some harm later occurs to the fetus,” she writes.
A similar personhood initiative was just last week introduced in Nevada. Florida’s personhood initiative never made it to the 2010 ballot, for lack of signatures, but Bryan Longworth (the head of Personhood Florida) has vowed to try again in 2012.