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11 November 2011

Repudiation: Personhood Amendments

It would have been difficult to miss the news from Tuesday that Mississippi's Personhood Amendment failed at the polls.  It failed by a considerable margin and many think that the issue is now over and done.  That is, many who are outside the anti-abortion movement.

There are national and state-based efforts to get Personhood Amendments (the plural in the title was not a typo) like Mississippi's Initiative 26 in states including Nevada in 2014, Alabama perhaps in 2012, Ohio in 2012, Florida in 2012, Wisconsin in 2012, and more being pushed by a national organization based in Colorado.  It isn't over.

There are a few reasons that this is a bad idea.  The science behind the Personhood Amendments is wrong and the theology is flawed.

The Personhood Amendment does not allow for any abortions, including those needed for medical reasons.  So, a woman with an ectopic pregnancy would be prohibited from getting the medical care that she needs to save her life.  In other words, the attempt to prevent her from aborting a doomed zygote (by definition, there is a conception resulting in a zygote, but not a properly implanted embryo) would not save the zygote but would kill the woman.

The Personhood Amendment does not allow for hormonal contraceptives (such as "the pill"), as these allow for two cells to join before washing them out of the woman's system.  The most common forms of birth control would be outlawed.

A woman who is raped and conceives would be forced to carry and give birth to the child of her rapist.  In a sense, she would be raped a second time and not be allowed to leave the rape behind her short of giving the child that she did not choose away for adoption.

Aside from those very real issues, there is a theological dichotomy between religions that should have these Personhood Amendments fail as unconstitutional because of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  There is no agreement as to when a cluster of cells becomes a person.

Those in the anti-abortion movement claim that as soon as the sperm and ova combine, there is a human person deserving of all rights of any citizen.  They base this claim not upon science but upon the Bible.  In particular, Psalm 139:16 speaks of how God knew David while his body was unformed.  They interpret this to mean that the spirit is formed immediately upon creation of the zygote.  An alternate interpretation is that the spirit, separate from the physical body, is known by God long before it is part of any human flesh.

Similarly, Jeremiah 1:4-5 talks of how God knew Jeremiah before he was in the womb.  Note, this does not mean in the womb, but prior to conception.

There are additional passages in the Prophetical Writings that have a similar vein.  In Judaism, these are not part of the Bible.  These are written by humans, not by God.

The writings of God, for Jews, consist of exactly five scrolls or books.  The germane verse is Genesis 2:7, where God breathed the spirit into Adam.  The spirit is associated with birth, not with conception.  The two Hebrew words that may help understand this distinction are ruach and nephesh.  The Christians think of the soul in terms of ruach.  The Jews think of the spirit in terms of nephesh.  Click on the links for some details.

The debate is also fueled by the first commandment in Genesis 1:28, where God tells Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.  We have done so.  Their descendents include more than seven billion alive today.  We exceed the number of stars that can be seen with the naked eye.  We exceed the number that our planet can sustain without environmental degradation.

The point is that the Personhood Amendment is based on dangerous theories that may harm the lives of women.  It is based on religious dogma that is not universal.  And those who want to see this pass are not about to stop trying.

4 December 2011, FollowUp 1.

19 January 2012, FollowUp 2.

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