At an IVF Clinic, Panic About “Personhood”

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 22: Pro-life activists participate in the annual ‘March for Life’ event January 22, 2009 in Washington, DC. The event was to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court abortion ruling. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Here’s the text of Mississipi’s Initiative 26, the so-called “Personhood” amendment.

Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hereby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ: Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” This initiative shall not require any additional revenue for implementation.

“From the moment of fertilization” – that creates a few problems. As Irin Carmon explained in a comprehensive story for Salon, IUD birth control would fail the Personhood test. Another problem that’s capitivated Slatesters: How would Personhood affect IVF? How could you fail to use all the eggs you fertilize without technically killing people? Carmon quoted a YesOn26 activist who asked and answered the question.

If you harvest 10 eggs and you implant three and you throw away the other seven, you’re aborting seven children. You’re aborting seven humans. You’re killing seven humans. So do it the right way and don’t kill children.

The YesOn26 campaign has produced a video “debunking” this myth, but the debunking consists of a big red “FALSE” being stamped on the line about IVF.

I dunno – I’m not convinced. What do IVF technicians think about the initiative? I called John Isaacs, a reproductive endocrinologist who heads the Mississippi Fertility Institute in Jackson, and has practiced for 20 years. By his count, the institute has completed around 700 in vitro fertilizations since 1999.

“We take eggs out of the ovaries,” Isaacs explains. “We fertilize them with the sperm. But we have to fertilize more than one egg. Of the ones that do fertilize, not all are going to grow into embryos. That’s why we have to start with a large number of eggs to give someone reasonable chance of pregnancy. We watch them as they grow into embryos. So to define a human being as a fertilized egg – that butts heads with the biologic reality that most fertilized eggs don’t result in a live birth.”

The YesOn26ers have told him not to worry about that. Too late. He’s worried.

“You could easily use this language to regulate what we do in such a way we could no longer freeze embryos,” he says. “That would require us to do one of two things. We could use all the embryos we have and install them, which would mean installing seven, eight eggs instead of one or two. Or we could limit the number of eggs we’re fertilizing to just as many as we plan to implant. Well, that would reduce the pregnancy rate. It’s just a mess.”