COMMENTARY | On the ballot this week in Mississippi was Amendment 26, the Mississippi Personhood Amendment. Though the measure failed by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin, it has raised eyebrows across the country as other states and organizations eye the measure as a potential roadmap to changing the system.
Could the "personhood" amendment be a harbinger of future political efforts by special interest groups?
The proposed Amendment 26 was simply worded, "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof." By changing the definition of the term "person," all abortion laws and genetic research regulations would have immediately become irrelevant. Rather than changing the laws through normal legislation, this "citizen based initiative" sought to simply change a definition that would bypass those laws entirely.
Anti-abortion groups nationwide were hopeful for passage of the amendment, yet they shall certainly not be dissuaded by this defeat. This end-around political tactic will surely find its way into special interest playbooks everywhere. By choosing to redefine terminology, virtually any law could be successfully circumvented without ever bringing the real issue to vote.
While the Mississippi vote was anticipated to be passed, cooler heads prevailed as many voters realized the definition change would have unintended consequences reaching far beyond the intended goal. Impacting contraceptive use, in vitro fertilization and even a doctor's ability to potentially respond to the needs of a pregnant mother, this simple definition change offered immense bang-for-the-buck legislation potential. Backed by a Colorado based group, Personhood USA, similar measures are planned for the ballots of several more states in 2012, regardless of this loss.
This new political tactic seems both dangerous and potentially devastating. If we allow our system of governance to be altered by simple definition change rather than honestly contested legislation, the integrity of the system itself becomes questionable. While abortion has been a hot button issue for decades and emotions on both sides of the fence run high, this ends-justify-the-means approach to changing the current legislation is simply unacceptable.