CBS misleads readers on Mississippi Personhood ballot measure

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CBS News has published an Associated Press report on the Mississippi Personhood ballot measure that misleads readers about the U.S. Constitution’s built-in protection of the right to life of all persons. The Mississippi Personhood Amendment, if approved by voters, would amend the State Constitution to define personhood as beginning at fertilization or “the functional equivalent thereof.”

According to the report at CBS News:

Any victory at the state level would likely be short-lived since a life-at-fertilization amendment would conflict with the U.S. Constitution. 

No details are offered to support this contention other than the implication that Roe v. Wade is somehow a valid decision that is “established” law.

Leaders of the movement say their ultimate goal is to provoke a court fight to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a legal right to abortion.

Mississippi Personhood’s understanding that the amendment would set the stage for a challenge to Roe is supported not only by the text of the Constitution, but also by points made in the Roe case itself. Sarah Weddington, attorney for the pro-abortion side in the Roe case, admitted that a State can adopt a personhood measure for the specific reason of challenging the case when the Justices asked her to agree that if such a statute were adopted, the unborn child would have automatic protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Justice Byron White: You would agree, I suppose, that one of the important factors that has to be considered in this case is what rights, if any, does the unborn fetus have.

Sarah Weddington: That’s correct.

Justice Potter Stewart: And the basic Constitutional question, initially, is whether or not an unborn fetus is a person, isn’t it? That’s critical to this case, is it not?

Response: Yes, it is.

Justice Potter Stewart: If it were established that an unborn fetus is a person within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, you would have almost an impossible case here, would you not?

Sarah Weddington: I would have a very difficult case.

Justice Potter Stewart: You certainly would.

Chief Justice Burger: Could Texas Constitutionally, in your view, declare that, by statute that a fetus is a person for all Constitutional purposes.

Sarah Weddington: The State could obviously adopt that kind of statute, and then the question would have to be adjudicated.

Both Justice Stewart and Justice Burger voted in favor of Roe v. Wade. Considering that even liberal Justices, two of whom ended up voting for Roe, acknowledged the Constitution’s protection in such a scenario, and considering that the attorney for “Jane Roe” agreed with their assessment, there is no foundation for the claim at CBS News that the Mississippi Personhood Amendment “would conflict with the U.S. Constitution”.

Tragically the Court, as with CBS News, completely ignored the obvious answer to the question and, as Justice William Rehnquist wrote in his dissenting opinon, fabricated a “right to abortion” out of thin air.

To reach its result, the Court necessarily has had to find within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown to the drafters of the Amendment.

Rehnquist cited the existence of 36 state and territorial laws limiting abortion at the time that the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, meaning that those who drafted the Amendment could not have been unaware of the personhood of the unborn child when they wrote these words:

[…][N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In those times, abortion was considered to be virtually unthinkable, hence no challenge ever arose until 1973 as, by then, abortion had indeed become “thinkable.”

Certain other points in the CBS News article regarding in vitro fertilization and contraception also merit a closer look.

Opponents say defining life as beginning at fertilization could block some common forms of birth control and deter Mississippi physicians from performing in vitro fertilization because they’d fear criminal charges if an embryo doesn’t survive.

CBS News essentially admits here that “some forms of birth control” are, in fact, abortifacient in nature. This is a fact frequently pointed out by the pro-life movement and denied in mainstream media. It is good to see CBS News acknowledge that abortifacient birth control not only exists, but is “common”.

The claim regarding in vitro fertilization that an embryo might not “survive” confirms that CBS News agrees with us that in the case of a human embryo, an individual human life exists. Otherwise, there would be no reason to use the word “survive”. As with any other intentional destruction of innocent human life, certainly anyone accused of such would themselves have the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment‘s “due process” provision. After all, when the pro-life community says that the Fourteenth Amendment covers all “persons”, we really mean all persons, from fertilization until natural death, including those accused of crimes.

For more information on Mississippi’s effort to legally establish the personhood of the unborn child, visit

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