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The Chilling Effect of Mississippi's 'Personhood Amendment'
The state of Mississippi is in the spotlight with the controversial Amendment 26 — known as the "Personhood Amendment — which will be voted on Nov. 8. The amendment will change how a person is defined under the Mississippi State Constitution and could have a chilling effect on women's health.
What Is Mississippi's 'Personhood Amendment?
Mississippi's one-sentence amendment, Initiative Measure Number 26, reads:
“The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
A broad based coalition that includes pro-life leaders and organizations across Mississippi and the country — called "Yes on 26"— formed to help pass the amendment.
Members of the medical, legal and infertility advocacy communities have raised concerns that the Personhood Amendment could have unforeseen, far-reaching implications for women's health, such as banning certain kinds of birth control, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and stem cell research. "RESOLVE, along with ASRM, the Mississippi Medical Association, and the Mississippi Chapter of ACOG believe that passage of Initiative 26 will have a dramatic effect on the care of women and men with infertility," says Barbara Collura, executive director of RESOLVE. "Many procedures that are part of in vitro fertilization (IVF), such as embryo cryopreservation and PGD, will be very difficult to continue to do, if not illegal, if Initiative 26 passes."
This amendment would also criminalize abortion in Mississippi, with no exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother.
The Effect on Infertility Patients
IVF necessitates that multiple eggs are fertilized in a lab to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. The fertilized eggs develop for three to five days, and then one or more are transferred to the woman’s uterus with the hope that one will implant and develop into a successful pregnancy and birth. However, there are often extra fertilized eggs remaining after a couple becomes pregnant. Many infertile couples require more than one attempt at implantation before a pregnancy occurs; many experience miscarriages; and many infertile couples plan on having additional children. The fertilized embryos that remain are often frozen (cryopreserved).
Passage of a Personhood Amendment would call into question many of these fertility treatments. If embryos are full humans, anything that puts an embryo at risk could be a criminal violation. For example, If embryos from an IVF cycle do not develop normally in the lab or do not result in a live birth after embryo transfer, could the fertility doctor or lab be criminally liable? Will patients be prohibited from donating frozen embryos to research? Will laws like this take away a person's rights of disposition over their embryos? Would non-IVF treatments such as artificial insemination be threatened because they carry the risk of miscarriage, and would a woman who suffers a miscarriage be subject to criminal charges? Who will have legal responsibility for fertilized eggs created during fertility treatment but not transferred to a woman's uterus?
As a guest columnist in the Mississippi's Clarion Ledger, Rims Barber, director of the Mississippi Human Services Agenda wrote:
Since more than one egg is harvested and fertilized to achieve a successful IVF pregnancy, making all the embryos "people" under Mississippi law will make it difficult if not impossible to continue offering IVF treatment in our state ...
Moreover, IVF is not the only medical treatment that could be prevented by passage of the Personhood Amendment. Effective treatment of tubal pregnancies, severe preeclampsia, and molar gestation could be prevented.
There have been several states, such as Georgia, Arizona and South Carolina, that have proposed legislation to define human life as beginning at the moment an egg is fertilized. In Colorado, an initiative to amend the state Constitution to adopt this definition was soundly defeated by the voters in November 2008 and November 2010.
"Most insiders believe that if Initiative 26 passes, it will give momentum to the Personhood movement, and more states will follow suit,” says Collura.
For more information on Mississippi's Personhood Amendment, visit the RESOLVE website. RESOLVE opposes Initiative 26 and urges all Mississippi residents to VOTE NO on Initiative 26 on November 8. The organization encourages others throughout the United States to spread the word about the initiative.
"RESOLVE urges all Mississippians who are undergoing IVF right now to talk to their doctor about the implications of Initiative 26 on their future care," Collura says. "Everyone in the infertility community should be urging their friends and family in Mississippi to 'Vote No on Initiative 26.'"