the issue with initiative 26…

I didn’t write about Initiative 26 in Mississippi before it failed. I considered it but I could not bring myself to write about it. The truth is that I did not write because first off- many better equipped bloggers and journalists were broaching the subject and secondly because I could not fathom that anything I might say could possibly sway someone away from voting “Yes” if they were set on doing so.

In case you are not aware, Initiative 26 on the Mississippi ballot yesterday was centered around defining “personhood” or when life actually begins. A noble question and one I think we all ought to ponder. With that question, however, comes a host of other questions. How much is science? How much is faith? How strict the measure? How wide the grace?

In my best moments I think the desire to want to put legislation around this issue and issues like it has good roots. I truly do believe that my friends who supported Initiative 26 did so because they believed it was something good, something life-giving or perhaps, life preserving. I cannot fault my conservative friends for that.

Unfortunately, I’m simply not confident we live in the kind of society that can make legislation around this without inevitably throwing women under the bus. I won’t go into a rant about what could have happened if this initiative had passed. I will say that it opens the door to all kinds of ambiguity in the legal system which I find ironic. For a group of people to be so certain about the beginning of life yet make legislation which would lead to ambiguity is almost poetic in its irony. The real issue to me is that the ambiguity resulting would be centered around “fault” and it does seem as though all fingers would then point to the woman. Did the woman do something to cause the miscarriage? Is the woman’s life more important than the growing baby’s life? Did the failed birth control pill the woman was taking result in the loss of life?




I’ll tell you now, I’m glad Initiative 26 failed. I hoped it would fail. I’m glad it failed because I’ve suffered three miscarriages and I remember feeling as though I was at fault. On my worst days I still wonder what I could have done differently, if I did something harmful- was it the sushi? the exhaust leak I found in my car? my lack of prenatal vitamins? too much coffee? Each miscarriage was a loss to me.

And I’m glad it failed because I have met women who might have died if they had not terminated an early pregnancy.

And I’m glad it failed because as much as I’d like to think that life begins the moment the cells start to divide and make someone new I simply do not believe we are meant to place legislation around that belief. The process is indeed miraculous and worthy of awe. To make legal issue of that mysterious moment does nothing to further the sanctity of it. Legislation in this case only serves to bring massive judgement and to turn one “life lover” against another.

I confess, the certainty of the people who supported this measure is admirable to me on one level and terrifying on another. I wish I had that kind of certainty around just about anything, to be honest. Life isn’t certain, though. If there is anything I have gleaned from 44 years of wandering around this planet, life is less certainty and more grace.  We can only be certain of grace and forgiveness and of loving one another and even those things are bound to hurt us in one way or another along the way.

Initiative 26 isn’t grace. It isn’t forgiveness and it isn’t loving and I’m glad it failed.

That being said, let’s not stop the discussion in our churches and our synagogues, our philosophy and biology classes, our water coolers and our coffee houses. It’s a good discussion, when does life begin and when does it end? They are “book end” questions and they are valuable. We are valuable. The dialogue is necessary, even if we never agree.

Let’s do this pondering though, with the hope of developing a longer lens in our vision of what it means to love one another and how we live that out in practice in between birth and death. That is an initiative I can get behind.


1 thought on “the issue with initiative 26…

  1. I can see why this was a difficult topic for you to address. It is a hard topic to wrap one’s brain around, let alone one’s heart.

    I find the way that events unfolded to be disturbing as well, albeit for a different reason.

    To start with, it seems to me that there are excellent philosophical, scientific, and theological reasons to not legally define human life as beginning at conception. Point blank, there is no universally held religious tradition, evidentially sound philosophical argument, or well accepted biological theory that adequately explains when it is that a human person first becomes a person. As such, our claims to knowledge on the matter are shrouded in a veil of ignorance. Consequently, the best argument that can be put forth for such a legal definition is that, since the stakes are so high, it’s better to err on the side of caution. The question of whether prudence dictates that we accept that argument is a controversial one to say the least given that making that definition comes with a high cost.

    Had I been a voter in Mississippi, I would have voted against the amendment. So it does not trouble me that so many people were against the amendment.

    But there is something that really gets my goat about much, if not most, of the opposition to the proposed amendment in Mississippi.

    “Opponents say that measure could have criminalized birth control, affected in vitro fertilization practices and even forced doctors to decline to provide pregnant cancer patients with chemotherapy for fear of legal repercussions.”

    Two of these things are not like the other.

    If one does accept the proposition that ensoulment of an embryo happens at conception, and thereby a fertilized egg (or its equivalent through cloning, etc.) is fully a human person, then it is absolutely the height of moral depravity to defend the taking such life by keeping methods of birth control and fertility treatment that can and do result in the destruction of fertilized eggs (or their equivalents through cloning, etc.). The argument seems to me to be equivalent to “I am willing to kill for the sake of convenience” or at least “I am unconcerned if my actions cause arbitrary death so long as I am not inconvenienced.”

    (The third argument, the one about life-saving medical treatment, I think is not really comparable to the birth control and fertility treatment arguments. But it’s also the least troubling one on a practical level. There is a huge body of work addressing the “double effect” theory in both the canon law of the Catholic Church and in the field of bio-ethics. Much of that would have immediately transfered to Mississippi state law if the legislation would have passed. Briefly put, if the intended result of a medical procedure, such as removing an ectopic pregnancy, is to save the life of the pregnant woman, then it is justifiable even if there is a second (and unintended) result, the destruction of the embryo.)

    I’m not really certain how people manage to reconcile the idea that life really does begin with conception with the idea that forms of birth control or fertility treatments that act as abortifacients are morally permissible. Maybe they don’t reconcile those beliefs. It is, after all, quite possible for human beings to hold to contradictory beliefs. But the nature of this particular contradiction gives me serious pause.

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