By Eric Webb
I remember being afraid of the dark. More accurately, I was afraid of what might be in the dark. For many, the new closet of fear is filled with the legal ramifications of the Personhood Amendment. There are fears of litigation, legal intrusion and interference.
For instance, I have been told that if the amendment passes, then the management of an ectopic pregnancy could be interpreted as murder, or wrongful death. Ectopic pregnancy is an example where the pregnancy threatens a mother’s life. To save the mother, would mean to terminate the pregnancy.
Currently, criminal law recognizes fetal homicide (except in the case of abortion). Civil law also allows for suit for wrongful death in fetuses after 10 weeks of life. With or without the amendment, it appears doctors could be charged with homicide or wrongful death for procedures they commonly perform. Fortunately, the mother is legally entitled to self-defense, where the fetus’ right to life does not supersede the mother’s right to life. Women are not doomed to die of life-threatening pregnancy any more than they are expected to allow an attacker to kill them. Personhood does not change that. Further, the principle of “double effect” defends the physician whose intent is to save the mother rather than harm the child. Like a good Samaritan who may injure a victim in the process of saving them, the amendment does not obstruct the doctor from saving a mother even if the child cannot be saved. Personhood does not change that either.
Similar objections to the amendment diminish under scrutiny as hyperbole rather than fact. Contraception will not be eliminated. IVF will continue. Miscarriage will not be criminalized. Apart from being for abortion, why would someone be against Initiative 26 when most objections can be set aside?
Fear. Not just of problems that can be seen but also whatever is hiding in the dark. Change brings uncertainty. Yet, every significant decision weighs certain gains against uncertain risks. How will we balance the loss of life by abortion against the satisfaction of not facing our fears? Will we forfeit what is best due to what we fear most? If we can check our fear with truth, we can gain a greater good. Not only are the tools at hand to end abortion, but the opportunity to establish moral guiderails for IVF and cloning. Consider the recent successful experiments to add jellyfish dNA to human embryos to create “glow-in-the-dark” humans. Surely, a greater good would offset the challenges of making the amendment work.
Will we substitute what might happen with the amendment for what will happen without it? To yield to fears and vote against the amendment, is to permit 150 deaths a month in our state. Since Roe vs. Wade, it has taken 38 years to get this far. How many lives will we exchange to keep the status quo?
Remember, “courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
D. Eric Webb, MD., is an obstetrician/gynecologist in Tupelo. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org