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Tracking the Times on the Mississippi Personhood Amendment


Last week, the New York Times devoted a considerable amount of coverage to Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment, which is on the ballot this November. On Tuesday the paper ran a news article that, by mainstream media standards, was actually fairly balanced. The Times, unlike most other media outlets, actually reported on the divisions in the pro-life movement and explained why many Catholic bishops and Beltway pro-life groups have concerns about personhood as a strategy. Additionally, the supporters of the personhood amendment who were interviewed were physicians and lawyers, not cranks or fringe characters.

The Times also demonstrated that the personhood amendment has bipartisan support in Mississippi, mentioning that the Democratic party’s nominee for governor supports the amendment, despite some misgivings. Of course, the Times granted plenty of coverage to the sensationalistic arguments of personhood opponents, namely that the amendment would jeopardize contraception. Interestingly, most of the personhood supporters interviewed in the article did not seem concerned about this. They either dismissed the arguments as political or thought stopping abortion was a greater priority.

Unfortunately, the Times’s Thursday house editorial against the Mississippi Personhood Amendment read like a NARAL or a Planned Parenthood press release. It highlights the most extreme and sensationalistic arguments of personhood opponents. It states that “pregnant women might be subject to criminal persecution. Of course, in the days before Roe v. Wade, there is little evidence to suggest that women were prosecuted for illegal abortions. Furthermore, the house editorial states that “fertilized eggs might be eligible to inherit money.” An amusing charge since unborn children can already be included in wills in many states.

What is interesting is this is almost certainly the first time that the New York Times has editorialized against an initiative in Mississippi. In fact the Times typically editorializes about ballot initiatives which appear on the ballot in California or other highly populated states. As I have argued before, this increased coverage from the mainstream media – even negative coverage — is good evidence of the progress of the pro-life movement.

— Michael J, New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.


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