Anti-abortion activists in today’s headlines are not politically savvy and don’t care to change. Unless they agree to play by conventional rules of politics, they will continue to lose. In losing, they won’t save the unborn.
It can be fun to indulge extremism, rejecting compromise and political alliances that may water down the purity of a cause. That’s what Colorado-based sponsors of Mississippi’s personhood amendment have done. As a result, the measure was soundly defeated on Tuesday in what may be the union’s most anti-abortion state.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who voted for the amendment, expressed frustration that Colorado activists placed it on the ballot without building alliances. Barbour, a staunch defender of the unborn, said the measure would likely have passed if Colorado activists — under the auspices of Personhood USA — had asked Mississippi politicians to introduce it to the heavily anti-abortion legislature. Barbour said a workable personhood proposal would have found easy support in the legislature, and politicians would have “ironed out the ambiguities” that frightened voters.
The measure, like two others that failed in Colorado, defines “person” to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” Proponents hope that defining unborn humans as persons will overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that prevents states from outlawing most types of abortion.
A human embryo lives, beyond scientific dispute, and can be no species other than homo sapiens. Debate should center not on settled science, but on which beings deserve protection and which do not. Those who advocate personhood understand that American law applies not to humans, but “persons.” Our laws protect the lives of most persons, but not all. Convicted murders can be killed by states. Victims may kill violent predators in self defense. Whether legal recognition as persons would imbue the unborn with protection from death remains to be seen. The court could forbid the state-sanctioned protection of “persons who have not been born.”
As personhood amendments have been written, abortion-rights activists easily frighten the masses. They warn of personhood causing a ban on all or most contraception. They explain that wives and mothers will die from ectopic pregnancies, as doctors will be unable to save a mother without causing the death of a person. The amendments are designed to fail. They are political suicide.
Unborn humans should be treated with dignity and respect, which precludes mass convenience abortions. In a perfect world, all unborn humans would be wanted, loved and birthed into functional families. In the real world, successful advocates of the unborn must win hearts and minds and settle for sequential legal victories that won’t stop all abortions, but may stop tens of thousands.
If Mississippi won’t accept an amendment, as written by Personhood USA, no state will. Abortions will decrease when activists work with realistic goals and stop holding out for all-or-nothing achievements of moral purity that are destined to fail. When they fail, those who could be saved — by viable and compromising legislation — pay the ultimate price.