An interview with one of the leaders of the "personhood" movement, which aims to outlaw abortion in the U.S. starting with Tuesday's vote in Mississippi
Jennifer Mason, a 28-year-old mother of three, has been an anti-abortion activist for 12 years. She serves as the communications director for Denver-based Personhood USA, a national organization founded by her husband that backs Mississippi's ballot initiative to declare that life begins at conception. The group, which was originally formed to support similar, failed initiatives in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, hopes to get such measures passed across the country. By decreeing that a fertilized human egg is a person with full rights, the Mississippi amendment would outlaw all abortions except those necessary to save the mother's life; critics contend it would also ban birth control pills. Despite vigorous opposition from Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights advocates, most observers expect the initiative to pass when Mississippi voters go to the polls Tuesday.
The following interview with Mason is the first Friday Interview, a new weekly series of Atlantic Politics Channel Q-and-As. The interview has been condensed and edited.
Q: What's your response to the concern that this measure would ban some types of birth control, including not just the morning after pill but also IUDs and birth control pills, which sometimes work not by stopping eggs from being fertilized but by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterine wall?
Jennifer Mason, Personhood USA: The simple answer to that is that this amendment does not mention eggs, or birth control, or [in vitro fertilization]. It only says that every human being is a person. If you take a pill that is intended to kill a child, that will be illegal. Contraception would not be illegal and it would not be illegal to prevent pregnancy. IVF would not be illegal but it would be illegal to terminate or kill a baby conceived by IVF.
If there is a birth control pill that does kill a child, I think we have a right to know that what it does is kill a baby and cause an abortion. I haven't seen any scientific evidence about that. If there were scientific evidence that the birth-control pill did in fact cause abortion, I think there would be an uproar in this country among women who never knew they were taking a pill to kill a child.
Once the sperm hits the egg, it's not an egg anymore. It's a new human being with its own DNA. It has a hair color and eye color. It has a gender. Most people don't know that.
The term "fertilized egg" is a made-up term. There is no stage of human development called "fertilized egg." It's used primarily by Planned Parenthood and our opponents, we believe they use it because it sounds a lot less human -- it sounds like an egg. In Mississippi they're putting up billboards with a picture of a carton of chicken eggs saying this is what Amendment 26 is about. It's not about chicken eggs, it's not about human eggs, it's about human beings. There is no class of human beings that are not people.
Q: What do you say to the criticism that this measure would force rape victims to bear their attacker's child?
A: This is another one of our opponents' talking points. I'm comfortable talking about rape. One of our spokespeople is a woman who was conceived through rape. She's thankful to be alive, and her mother is thankful she couldn't have an abortion.
On the [Mississippi campaign] Yes on 26 YouTube channel there's also a woman who was raped who regrets her abortion. Abortion does not make it better. It's an act of violence against a woman and a child. Rape is an act of violence and it's certainly a tragedy, but I don't think a second act of violence will make it better.
Q: Have you had conversations with some of the pro-life groups that are worried this will backfire for the anti-abortion movement by giving the Supreme Court an opportunity to reaffirm the central holdings of Roe v. Wade?
A: When we first started a lot of groups were hesitant, but a lot of them have now jumped on board and gotten involved. From all I've seen we've gotten overwhelming support from the pro-life movement.
Q: What about the concern that this measure could make things harder for opponents of abortion in America?
A: The answer to that is simple. There's already an abortion super-right in this country. We're trying to end abortion and we're going to keep trying to do the right thing. I don't think the abortion situation can get any worse in America.
Q: You talk about the testimony of women who regret their abortions, but aren't there a lot of women who have had abortions and never live to regret it? Isn't their testimony just as valid?
A: I can honestly say I've never met one. I've spoken at pro-life and pro-choice forums and I've never heard a woman say 'I'm so glad I had an abortion.' One time I did hear that, and a few years she came back to me and told me she was sorry. I've never heard anybody say they regret having their baby, ever. I've never heard anybody say they wish they had an abortion instead.