One evening in late September John Perkins, a veteran of the civil-rights movement, attended a rally at a Baptist church in Jackson in support of what he called “a total justice issue”. But this aspect of justice had nothing to do with any of the issues ordinarily associated with the civil-rights movement. It was concerned with Amendment 26, a measure on Mississippi’s ballot this November that defines a person as being “every human being from the moment of fertilisation, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof”.
The reason for the measure is straightforward; its consequences less so. The Supreme Court, in its landmark Roe v Wade ruling in 1973, held that the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy in the first trimester was guaranteed by her constitutional right to privacy. But Harry Blackmun, the liberal justice who wrote the court’s majority opinion, noted that Henry Wade, the defendant, and others “argue that the fetus is a ‘person’ within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment…If this suggestion of personhood is established, [Jane Roe’s] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’s right to life would be guaranteed specifically by the amendment.” In Blackmun’s view the constitution and judicial precedent failed to establish that personhood applied to the unborn. Mississippi is trying to fix that.
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© 2014 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.
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