Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times ran a web story about the Mississippi Personhood Amendment that will appear on the ballot this November. This initiative would amend the Mississippi constitution to define the word “person” or “persons” to “include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. This marks one of the first times that the personhood movement has received media coverage from a major outlet. The previous personhood efforts in Colorado received little coverage beyond local media sources.
As I have previously written, I think these personhood amendments are a poor strategy for pro-lifers. That having been said, the Times coverage of the personhood amendment is very shoddy. The blogpost highlights the sensationalistic accusations of personhood opponents — for example, that the amendment would criminalize miscarriages. Of course, in the days before Roe v. Wade, there is little evidence to suggest that women were prosecuted for illegal abortions, much less miscarriages. The blogpost also mentions that one personhood supporter “supported an effort to form an independent theocratic republic in South Carolina.” Equivalent extremists who oppose the personhood amendment apparently did not merit a mention.
The blogpost gets other fundamentals wrong. It claims that “both sides in the debate agree the measure would outlaw abortion” However, some pro-life legal analysts argue that without a separate set of criminal punishments, the personhood amendment would not change the legal status of abortion. Furthermore, the blogpost fails to mention that most Beltway pro-life groups oppose — or at least do not support — personhood amendments. Some think personhood amendments are a poor political strategy. Others think there are more effective ways to legally challenge Roe v. Wade. But, given the poor media coverage the pro-life movement receives, expecting the mainstream media to fully understand internal pro-life debates is probably too much to ask.
— Michael New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michgan–Dearborn and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.