- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION

JACKSON, Miss. — A funny thing happened on the way to forgetting about the abortion issue, which has roiled the country’s politics for four decades. Some people haven’t forgotten about it at all.

Mississippi, which nobody ever cited as a bellwether state, will vote on Nov. 8 whether to amend its state constitution to protect the civil rights of all “persons,” defined in Amendment 26 to “include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” Abortion would be effectively defined as murder. This time Mississippi may indeed be a bellwether.

“Just about every elected official in Mississippi, black or white and Democrat or Republican, is for Amendment 26,” says one unsympathetic pol pleading anonymity as he sips a midmorning cup of coffee at the Mayflower, a cafe where the pols gather to gossip down Capital Street from the Capitol. “Or at least they say they’re for it. Opposing it is a ticket to oblivion.”

Indeed, both candidates for governor, Phil Bryant, the Republican, and Johnny DuPree, the Democrat, support Amendment 26. So do 20 of the leading politicians in the state, including all elected constitutional officers. Curiously, few Mississippians bring up the subject to a Washington visitor in conversations in coffee shops, shopping malls and on the town squares across the state where people gather. Everybody wants to talk about Barack Obama and the prospects to replace him, and most of the happy talk is about Herman Cain. This is not your grandfather’s Mississippi.

Supporters and opponents speak of Amendment 26 in the apocalyptic language of the true believer. “This is the first significant battle of a revolution,” says Brad Prewitt, director of the Amendment 26 campaign. “This is the most extreme and dangerous intrusion in the lives of women and families in the history of the Republic,” Stan Flint, a Jackson-based political consultant, tells the Wall Street Journal. There’s a widespread expectation that the validity of the amendment will eventually be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.

There’s no denying that Amendment 26 is far-reaching. By fundamentally changing the debate, it could change the law, even threatening Roe v. Wade, on which all abortion rights rest. There’s already a movement afoot in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nevada and Montana to put a copy-cat amendment on the ballot in 2012. The Supreme Court follows the election returns, the ancient wisdom goes, and just when a lot of people thought the abortion debate was settled, much work for many lawyers appears to lie ahead.

The controversy over the amendment has been mostly restricted to Mississippi because the mainstream media, which pretends to be disinterested, is actually merely uninterested. The media consensus, alas, is capable of entertaining only one thought at a time. But there’s a buzz in Washington about the resurgence of the pro-life movement. This week’s cover story in the Weekly Standard is illustrated with a remarkable sonogram showing what is clearly a baby, and not merely a fetus, giving a thumb’s up in the womb. The story is headlined “the unheralded gains of the pro-life movement.” The heralds may be waking up.

Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling, two leaders of the pro-choice movement, acknowledge the gains of their pro-life rivals and cite improved technology as enabling them to take the moral high ground. Supporters of abortion rights, they write in an op-ed essay in the Los Angeles Times, “have had a hard time dealing with the increased visibility of the fetus.”

Other pro-choice figures glumly acknowledge that young people - the Millennials, so-called because they came of age in the new millennium are the new face of a movement once regarded as the redoubt of geezers and crones.

“Millennials haven’t grown more religious, politically conservative, or queasy about gay rights,” writes Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard cover story. “Nor do they go out of their way to vote for pro-life candidates. But they tend to see abortion as a human-rights violation.”

If Amendment 26 is the unabashedly extreme measure its opponents say it is, it’s only answering the extreme of the other side. The pro-choice movement, for example, never conceded that partial-birth abortion, in which a doctor typically uses a knife or a pair of scissors to kill the live baby coming out of the womb, was morally wrong, and fiercely resisted the legislation that finally outlawed the practice a decade ago.

Extreme always begets extreme. The argument over abortion is far from settled, as Mississippi is expected to demonstrate next week.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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