Mississippi Personhood Bill Could Criminalize Doctors Who Perform An Abortion To Save A Woman’s Life

Posted on November 4, 2011

Think Progress, November 4, 2011 by Tanya Somanader

Physicians and medical associations are now speaking out against Mississippi’s personhood amendment, warning that it is “a dangerous intrusionof criminal law into the provision of medical care.”

Specifically, by criminalizing abortion, the measure could “criminalize routine medical practice that intentionally or not terminates a pregnancy” because, according to the measure, any fertilized egg — regardless of if and where it implants — could be considered a “person.” And because the measure has no exceptions for health of the mother (let alone rape or incest), Mississippi physicians are worried that termination of such a life-threatening pregnancy could still be considered a form of homicide:

[Mississippi Medical Association President Dr. Tom] Joiner and other opponents of Initiative 26 are concerned that by attempting to criminalize abortion, the initiative will criminalize routine medical practice that intentionally or not terminates a pregnancy. There is no mention in the initiative of an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, nor for the health of the mother, as in the case of life-threatening conditions such as ectopic or molar pregnancies. (In an ectopic pregnancy the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, most often in the fallopian tube; in a molar pregnancy the fertilized egg becomes an abnormal growth such as a tumor rather than a fetus.)

“These pregnancies were not meant to go on to be people and we don’t think calling them persons is going to do any good for the patients that carry them nor the pregnancies themselves,” said Tupelo obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Wayne Slocum, vice chair of the Mississippi section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Slocum said because ectopic and molar pregnancies never result in live births, casting those fertilized eggs as “persons” does not make sense. “They just need to be treated either with medication or surgery,” he said. “If not the mother can bleed to death or have dire consequences.”

Ultimately, as the Mississippi State Medical Association warns, the bill “will place in jeopardy a physician who tries to save a mother’s life by performing procedures and employing techniques have used for years.” Even while some of the doctors belonging to the association oppose abortion, Dr. Joiner says “nearly all of the association’s members oppose Initiative 26.” Dr. Slocum considers himself “pro-life” but says, “we feel like passing this amendment to the state constitution would do more to harm our patients than it will do to stop abortion.”

Posted in: Mississippi