Mississippi voters may define life as starting at fertilization, upending abortion laws

The Takeaway

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Mississippi lawmakers are trying to do an end-run around the right to have an abortion.

Instead of whittling away when and how and where abortions are legal, as has been standard practice for the pro-life movement for decades, voters will try to define when life begins. On Nov. 8, voters will decide on Proposition 26, which would define life as beginning the moment an egg is fertilized.

It’s a controversial approach. Critics of the proposition come on both sides of the abortion debate, with the Roman Catholic Bishops and the National Right to Life organization joining traditional pro-choice movements in criticizing the effort.

“They think it’s too risky,” said Erik Eckholm, a reporter for The New York Times who has covered this issue.

Eckholm said that this amendment would put Mississippi in a place where certain forms of birth control, including IUDs and the morning after pill, could become illegal.

“The advocates in the state and in much of the country quite explicitly say they want to ban…the morning after pill, and this is aimed at getting after that,” Eckholm said. “If the egg is already a person, that would be effectively killing that person.”

Not so fast, though, said Rebecca Kiessling, an attorney and a national spokeswoman for Personhood U.S.A. — the group behind this effort.

“This doesn’t make anything illegal. It is not a criminal statute. It’s a constitutional framework,” she said.

But Eckholm said that just leaves things more muddled. Either the legislature would have to provide additional legislation that addresses the issue, or it would be left to the courts to decide.

“It would go into the courts because someone would bring a case,” he said.

Eckholm also said that, in conversations with hospitals and doctors, he’s been told that many would no longer perform certain procedures, for fear that this would open them to criminal liability.


“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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