Mississippi’s Personhood Bill Makes God Look Bad

When you take the truth out to lunch, you will probably have a nice visit but when you choose to dine with falsehood, you will get indigestion. Mississippi had better reach for its Zantac! A ballot measure going to voters on November 8 has a good chance of passing and it should be coded as ED, E for embarrassing and D for disgraceful.

Both Republican and Democratic candidates for governor of that great state have endorsed the measure. It proposes to redefine the basic word “person,” applying it to fertilized eggs. The goal of this mischief, as many have noted, is to outlaw all abortions with no exceptions—even for rape or incest, or when a woman’s life is in danger. This would mean that, in Mississippi (or the several other states like Florida and Ohio that are drafting similar measures) it will be safer to be a fertilized-egg-person (FEP) than a woman.

What a welter of problems arise when you oust logic. Right out of the gate, away with any contraceptives that prevent implantation of the FEP. Also unthinkable under such a law is medical experimentation on embryos. Hey, those are people you’re experimenting on! Even microscopic persons have rights. Fertility clinics? Shut your doors. You can’t kill FEP’s just because you want to make a baby.

Also, how do the poor IRS people handle those who add FEPs as dependents on their tax returns? The Census Bureau will also be hobbled in estimating the actual population of a district or a state to establish the number of congresspersons and so forth. And what do you do to the woman who insists on driving in the carpool lane because she is pregnant? And don’t forget those bereaved heirs who must divide their inheritance with the not yet born, but otherwise fully-fledged FEPs, in the family?

But, can you believe it, it gets worse.

Science tells us that most FEPs never make it to implantation. Most of them die before they get to the only place where they can grow: the womb. We all know that persons, even dead persons, deserve respect and, if they are dead, a decent burial. Pause for a moment to contemplate the staggering problems this will present to funeral directors! Just finding those deceased little FEPs will be a whopper of a challenge. The law will have to help. The Attorney General of Mississippi will have to order checks on the menstrual flow of all sexually active women just on the chance that there may be therein a deceased citizen (or two) of the sovereign State of Mississippi.

And yet, even more serious problems loom involving God, the Intelligent Designer. If God designed a system where most conceived “persons” die, God becomes the supreme abortionist. This is worse than planned obsolescence; this is planned murder, and God will have to answer for it. A court trial of God will be called for, a legal event that will make the Scopes Trial pale into insignificance.

Mississippians, like most Americans, are religious, and here is the good news. All the world’s major religions have visited the question of the moral status of the embryo and fetus and there is broad agreement on what is called “delayed ensoulment.” That was code for saying that the fetus does not attain to personal status until it is well formed. Early miscarriages could not be named or given religious funerals. Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas held that the early fetus had the moral status of a plant, and that not even God could infuse a spiritual, person-making soul until the fetus was developed; some put this today at six or seven months into the pregnancy. The Jewish Mishnah permitted abortion as a health procedure since the fetus does not have personal status. Says the Mishnah, in the first forty days of conception the status of the conceptum is considered “like water” and even in the last trimester, the fetus has a lesser moral status. Similar views of gradualism in assessing the moral status of the fetus are found in other world religions.           

And that introduces one final problem for states contemplating upgrading fertilized eggs to personhood: there is a consensus in the world’s religions that this is wrong and therefore making it a law infringes on the religiously grounded rights of citizens who see it differently based on their religions.