by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
November 11, 2011 - Mississippi voters recently issued a resounding defeat to “Initiative 26” – an initiative that would have amended the state’s constitution so as to expand the definition of person “to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” Prior to the vote, pro-life Governor Haley Barbour expressed reservations about the “ambiguity” in the language of the initiative. Barbour said, “I believe life begins at conception. Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn’t say that. It says life begins at fertilization, or cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning. And I’m talking about people that are very, outspokenly pro-life.”
Ambiguity? Let’s be clear. There is absolutely nothing ambiguous about this wording. It is clear, precise, and grounded in basic facts of contemporary biological science. As every embryologist knows, human beings come into existence in one of two ways: either fertilization or somatic cell nuclear transfer (i.e., cloning). The final clause of Initiative 26 simply leaves open the possibility that our technological powers might one day generate new ways of bringing human beings into existence. So, why are Barbour and others in the pro-life community confused?
Barbour explains, “I am concerned about some of the ramifications on in vitro fertilization …That concerns me; I have to just say it.” Barbour’s concern discloses the motive behind his rhetorical obfuscation. He rightly recognizes that had it passed, Initiative 26 would have entailed that human beings frozen in fertility clinics throughout Mississippi would have been protected as persons under the constitution. This undoubtedly would have rested uneasily on the consciences of those in the pro-life community who regularly avail themselves of in vitro fertilization – a process that “conceives” human beings in bulk and ultimately discards those that aren’t needed.
Whether Initiative 26 would have been a sound public policy is a matter about which continued conversation is worth having. But in the process of having that conversation, the pro-life community should not let guilty consciences impair metaphysical sobriety. Every adult, child, infant, and fetus alive today came into being (i.e., began to be human) at conception – i.e., fertilization. Moreover, geography has no bearing whatsoever on that biological fact. So, whether conceived in a womb or under a microscope in a lab, a human being is still the human being that it is – whether implanted or not. These matters are utterly unambiguous. Anyone who says otherwise either needs a bit more biology or perhaps repentance.