Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Personhood in Mississippi

All but ignored in the media fascination with the Herman Cain soap opera are several ballot initiatives to be decided in today's elections.

It's too early to tell how they have fared, but one that has profound consequences for contemporary abortion ethics and jurisprudence is a measure in Mississippi that seeks to define a person as existing from the moment of conception.

No court has ever defined a person this expansively before. Ezra Klein writes this in the Washington Post:
A new poll underscores just how close Mississippi is to passing the country’s first “personhood” law, which would define life as beginning at conception. Public Policy Polling finds that, hours before tomorrow’s vote, 45 percent of voters supported the amendment, while 44 percent opposed it.
Actually, Klein is mistaken here. He repeats a canard that has plagued the abortion debate ever since the 1970s. It's clearly not a debate about when life begins. No life scientist or medical doctor would ever claim otherwise. Life doesn't "begin," it's a continuum going back to the first life forms appearing on the planet. The ovum and sperm are living cells produced by living men and women. When they fuse they form a conceptus which is itself a living entity, and it continues to live throughout its development.

The question the personhood law is really designed to address, however it might be worded, is the question of when this living organism becomes a person. This is significant because under our constitution persons have a right to life. The Fifth Amendment states:
No person shall .... be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
If this ballot issue passes it will have enormous ramifications not just for abortion but a number of other practices as well:
“Things can definitely go either way tomorrow,” said Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen. “The stakes here are huge. This is really the most interesting thing on the ballot tomorrow anywhere in the country.”

The Mississippi ballot has incredibly important legal implications: no state has ever given an embryo constitutional rights and, legally, it’s not quite clear what happens when you do. There is a lot of speculation that it could outlaw infertility treatments and birth control, while almost certainly banning abortion. If passed, the Mississippi law would near certainly bait a legal challenge that could wind its way up to the Supreme Court.
We'll know soon enough whether it passes.

Hypocrisy of the Feeding Frenzy

I don't know what, if anything, happened between Herman Cain and the women who are accusing him of various levels of sexually inappropriate behavior.

I do think, though, that anyone who, on the basis of these charges, criticizes Cain should be required to tell us whom they voted for in 1994. If it was Bill Clinton they should be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a shake of the head. They have absolutely no credibility.

No one who supported Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy or John Edwards has any business criticizing Herman Cain for his alleged indiscretions. Yet the lefties at MSNBC, NBC, CBS and elsewhere are attacking Cain like Piranha attacking a luckless cow that wandered into the river.

The hypocrisy of this feeding frenzy is, in my opinion, the most significant aspect of this whole sordid episode.

I could hardly believe my ears this morning watching MSNBC's Morning Joe and later listening to Martin Bashir and others on the Dylan Ratigan show on the same network.

Morning Joe featured a fine interview with former president Clinton on his ideas for rousing us from our economic malaise, at the end of which Joe Scarborough lamented that people like Mr. Clinton cannot again run for the presidency. This, after his own show and others on the network have ceaselessly made the point, both implicitly and explicitly, that the behavior alleged to have been indulged in by Mr. Cain, behavior no worse than that of Mr. Clinton, by itself disqualifies him as a serious candidate for that office.

The panel on the Dylan Ratigan show was uniformly adamantine that Mr. Cain's indiscretions were beyond what a decent American polity should be expected to tolerate, and yet every one of these folks would, I am willing to bet, vote for Mr. Clinton today were he to run again for the White House.

It never seems to occur to any of these people how hypocritical they look. Or maybe it does, but they don't care.