Time's Nina Burleigh Mocks Miss. Personhood Amendment as 'Rights for Zygotes'

October 27th, 2011 3:23 PM

"I would be happy to give him a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs."

That was Time contributor Nina Burleigh back in July 1998 during the Clinton impeachment saga. Not much has changed in 13 years when it comes to Burleigh's militant and outspoken defense of abortion.

Take her October 20 Time.com piece, "Mississippi's Choice: Personhood and the Rights of Zygotes," in which Burleigh attacked both pro-life activists who are pushing for a personhood amendment in Mississippi as well as "mainstream" pro-lifers who question the political and legal wisdom of the personhood amendment strategy (emphases mine):

Rebecca Kiessling embodies the right-wing female firebrand in all the clichéd ways. She has long, straight blonde hair, a law degree and bears a resemblance to Ann Coulter. She's married, a home-schooling mother of five and vehemently pro-life. What sets her apart, though, and what has made her the optimal spokeswoman for radical pro-lifers in the abortion wars, is that she is a daughter of rape, conceived when her biological mother was abducted at knifepoint in 1968. She likes to point out that she has spent her 41 years on this earth only because abortion was illegal in the state of Michigan that year. Her mother went to two back-alley abortionists before being forced, because of the law, to carry Rebecca (whom she gave up for adoption but recently readopted) to term.

For Kiessling, and the new ilk of radical pro-lifers behind what they call the "personhood" movement, anything less than a total abortion ban is simply mealymouthed appeasement. They don't bother with "redefining rape," an item on the agenda of the comparatively warm-water pro-lifers in the House this year. As far as the personhood crowd is concerned, it doesn't matter whether a rape was forcible or not: if the rape made a pregnancy, the rape victim must be legally required to gestate and give birth to a baby.


As abortion-rights group NARAL and Planned Parenthood scrambled to mount a response to yet another House bill aimed at restricting not just abortion but also women's access to contraception and medical care — HR 358, dubbed the "Let Women Die Act" for allowing emergency-room staff to refuse to provide lifesaving abortions — in Ohio, radical pro-lifers were delivering a petition to the attorney general that opens the processing of putting a similar personhood amendment before the state's voters in 2012. Similar ballot efforts are under way in Nevada, California, the Dakotas and Montana, as well as a legislative push in Wisconsin.

Personhood USA, based in Arvada, Colo., is the nerve center for this new radical antiabortion effort. The personhood drive might be to the pro-life movement what Occupy Wall Street is to the left — young, provocative and radical.

Led by two baby-faced men in their early 30s, and with photogenic Kiessling as its "I survived abortion" spokeswoman, the personhood movement is working day and night to declare all fertilized eggs — even the zygotes in IVF petri dishes, or the ones conceived in an overnight fling that are about to be eradicated with the morning-after pill — as "persons," subject to the same civil rights (chiefly, not to be murdered, but all other rights might theoretically apply) as born people.


Even mainstream pro-lifers ridicule or distance themselves from these personhood initiatives. One attorney associated with various pro-life organizations described the personhood movement as a "fool's errand," "intellectually incoherent" and "lacking thought." Antiabortion battle ax Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum website says personhood "won't prevent a single abortion" and concludes that it's bad for the movement. "This hurtful effort misleads pro-lifers with the false hope that a referendum can overturn Roe v. Wade, when only the U.S. Supreme Court can do that."

Such mainstream pro-life opposition only encourages the personhood people, as it sets them apart from what they call compromisers. "Michigan just celebrated the passage of, or the governor's signing of, a partial-birth-abortion ban," Kiessling says. "We think that's celebrating mediocrity. They can still do it if they use lethal injection" on the fetus, she says.

Aside from her loaded language against pro-lifers, Burleigh may have made some factual errors in presenting some examples of "unintended result[s]" of the bill:

If Mississippi voters approve the initiative, it will become law in 30 days, and redefine person in the more than 10,000 places in the state's law books where the word appears. One unintended result: a pregnant woman (at any stage of pregnancy) would have to be counted as two people in the Mississippi census. That may be bizarre to most Americans, but for the young crusaders in Arvada and Michigan, it all makes perfect sense.

Of course, it's the U.S. government which conducts the Census every ten years and the Mississippi state constitution's definition of personhood would not be binding on federal Census documents. What's more, it's debatable to what extent Burleigh is correct about the new "person" definition  applying retroactively to every instance the term is used in Mississippi's state law books.

The wording of the personhood amendment itself suggests that the term will only govern the state's bill of rights as listed in Article III of the state constitution (emphasis mine)

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.

Chief in mind to personhood advocates, most likely, is this provision in Article III, Section 14:

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by due process of law.

Abortion deprives a human being of his or her right to life without due process of law. That's the point of the personhood movement and precisely why staunch pro-choicers like Burleigh insist on clouding the issue with loaded and dismissive language.