Three Thoughts on the Failed Personhood Amendment

The failure of the personhood amendment should tell us at least three key things.

The failure of the personhood amendment should tell us at least three key things:

1.  Despite the stark rhetoric in the US that attempts to reduce abortion to simplistic  pro and con factions, the fact of the matter is that the public has complex views on this subject.  To wit:  even persons who are staunchly pro-life find that issues like life of the mother, rape and incest, contraception, and in vitro fertilization raises sufficient questions in their minds that they are unwilling to endorse as blanket a ban as this amendment would have required.

Of course, this is not surprising because most issues are more complex than a simple yes or no.  Further, anyone who has paid attention to polling on this subject over time knows that the public views on this topic are not as binary as activists often make it seem.

2.  This should bury all talk about a pro-life amendment to the US Constitution.  If arguably the most conservative state (certainly the most anti-abortion) in the union cannot pass such an amendment on a straight up or down vote, there is categorically no way for it to achieve 2/3rds of both chambers of Congress and then 3/4th of the states (this is, of course, not a controversial observation).  As such:  can candidates stop making empty promises along these lines, please?

3.  This should also put to rest to notion that is popular in some quarters (i.e., in some OTB discussion threads and on the Rush Limbaugh Show) that if voters are given an unambiguously conservative choice that that choice always wins.  This advice is usually given regarding a candidate, but this example does provide a rather direct example that such a simplistic dictum is flawed.  This is not to say that the Mississippi electorate proved themselves to be liberal by their vote yesterday, but rather than it stark simplicity in politics is great for bumper stickers, talk radio, and blog comment sections, but less so for actual reality.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    This should also put to rest to notion that is popular in some quarters (i.e., in some OTB discussion threads and on the Rush Limbaugh Show) that if voters are given an unambiguously conservative choice that that choice always wins.

    The stealth conservatives do a much better job at implementing the agenda.

  2. Liberty60 says:

    Point well made, that the public has much more subtle and conflicting views of this than we are led to believe.

    Early abortion (in the first trimester) enjoys pretty broad support, while late abortion (in the third trimester) doesn’t.

    So the public pretty much believes that “personhood” occurs somewhere in the second trimester.

    This actually seems reasonable in my view. Trying to convince people that a fertilized egg is a baby requires a massive leap of faith.
    But by the same logic, trying to convince people that a fully fomed fetus at 8 months is just a blob of cells strikes most people as bizarre.

    So we will in all likelihood remain with the status quo, of free access in the first trimester and highly restricted access int he last, with the murky area in the second.

    But sadly no, as long as there are contributions to be had with inflammatory screeds promising a final epic triumph, we will keep hearing the same tropes from politicians promising what they can’t possibly and don’t even intend, to deliver.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    but less so for actual reality.

    Most people do not allow reality to intrude on their politics.

  4. Comples, dare I say nuanced issues, have to be presented as false dichotomies for electoral purposes. And then the spin from all involved begins, 99% and all that.

  5. Rob in CT says:

    Right, Liberty. Exactly so.

    The question is when does the developing fetus become sufficiently person-like such that its right to life trumps the woman’s right to end the pregnancy. Lots of people, while conceding that this is a fuzzy line, basically go with “viability” (which, of course, moves with technology), which is presently ~24 weeks, with caveats for things like a grave health threat to the woman.

    I’m basically there too, though I’m hesitant about legislating restrictions, even for late-term abortions.

  6. Ernieyeball says:

    A woman has the right to control over her body.
    It is not the business of the priests, the state or her neighbors.

  7. ponce says:

    Trying to convince people that a fertilized egg is a baby requires a massive leap of faith.

    Interesting choice of words, liberty.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    It’s the long, slow-motion crash of right wing fantasy into reality.

    Fun to watch.

  9. EMRVentures says:

    The almost universal inclusion of the “rape and incest” and “health of the mother” exceptions in any anti-abortion debate or proposal has always stood as an indication of the complexity of the question.

    Once you allow an exception, any exception, you’re doing the same balancing of competing rights and interests that pro-choicers do as well. You’re no longer pro-life, you’re just drawing the line in a different place than a supporter of abortion rights.

    Or, you are a true believer in the sanctity of the life of the fetus but politically savvy enough to know that abortion without the exceptions is a non-starter for most — which, in itself, is a rather significant admission, and a cynical balancing act as well.

  10. Barb Hartwell says:

    I irritates me that many of the people who are against abortion also are against welfare and foodstamps. Who is going to take care of all these children. Most people do not like abortion, but when they find themselves in an unwanted pregnancy it`s good to know they have a choice.

  11. Hey Norm says:

    I grow very tired of religious zealots trying to force their superstitions and universally flawed belief systems on me.
    I know they believe there is a infinitely old, infinitely powerful, omniscient being who is aware of every thought of everyone of us and that we have absolutely zero indication of…and that this all-powerful yet completely undetectable being wants abortion clinics blown up and innocent people put to death in name of justice and gays to be un-gayed.
    That doesn’t mean we have to listen to their crack-pot ideas.
    Does it?

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    @Barb Hartwell: What you have to recognize is this is not about saving a zygote or a fetus – it’s about controlling sex and women.