On November 8, Mississippians will vote on Initiative 26, an amendment to their state's constitution declares that life begins at the moment of conception. If enacted, the measure will effectively outlaw all abortion, IVF, embryonic stem cell research, and many forms of birth control. The driving force behind this and other such initiatives is an extreme fringe ideology known as the "Personhood USA" movement, and one of the loudest voices in that movement is Rebecca Kiessling. Here's hoping your rage levels have been kept at a manageable "middling" today; they're about to skyrocket.
TIME reports that in 1968, when Kiessling's mother was a teenager, she was raped at knifepoint. The encounter left her pregnant in a state where, at the time, abortion was illegal. She attempted twice to receive an illegal back-alley abortion and was forced to carry her pregnancy to term. And, after being forced to have sex and being forced to gestate an unwanted fetus, she gave birth to a woman who would later grow up to spend her life trying to force her views on other women. It's the circle of life.
Kiessler's organization, Personhood USA, which is not a gender-neutral America-themed section of Disney's "It's A Small World" ride, is based in Colorado. The movement's aim is to completely outlaw abortion and partially outlaw birth control, and it attempts to do that by attacking a very specific bit of language in the original Roe v Wade ruling, which was written by Justice Henry Blackmun. It reads,
The appellee and certain amici [pro-lifers] argue that the fetus is a 'person' within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment
Ah ha! So, by changing the definition of "person" to include zygotes, Roe v Wade wouldn't even need to be overturned in order to outlaw abortion. Crazy like a fox, those Personhood folk.
The organization has seen its greatest success to date in Mississippi, which is on the verge of voting on what is probably the stupidest constitutional amendment of all time. Dire implications for women's health aside, property and inheritance laws would be thrown into disarray. One astute lawmaker pointed out that since there's no legal differentiation between "conception" and "birth" in Mississippi law, if the measure passed, children who were 17 years and 3 months old would be allowed to vote, and the drinking age would have to be lowered to 20 years, 3 months. The state already boasts a dismally high teen pregnancy and poverty rate. There are currently only 2 abortion providers in the entire state. It's hard to fathom how more forced babies are going to solve any problems.
Even some staunch conservatives find Personhood USA's mission a little kooky. Phyllis "Feminism Ruined Everything" Schlafly herself says that personhood measures "won't prevent a single abortion." Mainstream pro-lifers find Initiative 26's implications troubling as well.
Keissling is undaunted. She and two other anti-choice zealots are currently in the midst of a national "Conceived in Rape" tour, which is supposed to showcase just the sort of lemonade that rapelemons can produce. She tells TIME,
I believe that every child deserves protection regardless of how they were conceived and I don't believe I deserve the death penalty for the crimes of my father. Planned Parenthood will say to me, 'You are lucky.' I wasn't lucky. I was protected! I feel like my life was saved from a burning building and I need to go back to save the rest of them.
No word yet on what Personhood USA's next move will be; some speculate that they'll outlaw the cutting of toenails and hair, as every human cell is precious and spectacular and alive. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go register my ovaries and the thousands of almost-people who live inside them to vote. They're all Democrats.