The Perils of Promoting Personhood
January-February 2012By James T. McCafferty
James T. McCafferty is a Catholic husband, father, writer, and lawyer in Jackson, Mississippi. He completed a Masters in Theological Studies this past May. Of all the states in the union, Mississippi has the lowest percentage of Catholics.
In last Novembers general election, the voters of Mississippi were presented with a bill that would have made theirs the first state to define legal personhood as beginning from the moment of conception. The pro-life measure, commonly called the personhood amendment, appeared on the ballot as Amendment 26. It was defeated by a solid margin, garnering less than forty-five percent approval.
An initiative to amend the states constitution, Amendment 26 was spearheaded by Personhood Mississippi, a citizens group affiliated with Personhood USA, a grassroots organization that has assisted in similar campaigns across the nation. According to the groups website, the purpose of the amendment was to protect all life, regardless of age, health, function, physical or mental dependency, or method of reproduction.
The amendments backers aim was to overturn Roe v. Wade by striking at what they perceive to be its soft underbelly: the lack of a legal definition of the word person. Drafted by Leslie Riley, a pro-life activist in Mississippi, the language of the amendment, as it appeared on the November 8 ballot, was as follows:
Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hereby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ: Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, The term person or persons shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof. This initiative shall not require any additional revenue for implementation.Although authored by a Protestant, in the most Protestant state in the country, the amendment would have conformed this part of Mississippis constitution to the Catholic teaching that human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2270). Conspicuously absent from the coalition of pro-life advocates supporting Amendment 26, however, were the bishops of Mississippis two Catholic dioceses, Jackson and Biloxi.
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