Skip to content

Mississippi Blues

October 25, 2011

Cross-posted at Ms.

Folks, we’ve got a situation in Mississippi. In September, the state’s Supreme Court decided to allow a so-called “personhood” amendment to appear on the ballot this November 8. In addition to electing a governor, a secretary of state, an attorney general and members of the state legislature, voters will be asked to decide whether to amend their state constitution to include the following language:

The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.

And that’s it. The amendment does not state how or in what context that definition will be applied, what existing legal standards will be changed or what exactly will be enforceable because of it. But the implications are far reaching.

The stated intentions of Personhood Mississippi, the organization behind the amendment, are to end abortion and to provoke a lawsuit that will lead to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade:

If Mississippians vote Yes on Amendment 26 – a legal challenge will be set up to the unconstitutional court ruling ‘Roe-v-Wade’ that allegedly ‘legalized’ abortion. … The Personhood Amendment does just that – challenge Roe-v-Wade at it’s very core.

The group also makes clear that there will be no abortion exception for rape or a woman’s health or life.

That’s bad enough. Their unstated intentions are even more disturbing. The truth is, Amendment 26 would also ban emergency contraception (EC) and other forms of hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills, because they thin the lining of the uterus in a way that some argue might, in theory, prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to it; the termination of ectopic pregnancies, which threaten the lives of women who have them; and IVF, because you’re probably not allowed to keep “people” in petri dishes.

So far, the personhood movement’s answer to “But that will ban the pill and IVF!” has been “No it won’t.” They offer no evidence that it won’t do that and no explanation of how they intend the broadly worded amendment to be applied in those areas or in medical emergencies.

Proponents do admit that the amendment will ban the EC known as Plan B because it prevents implantation of a fertilized egg. But they tend to roll over and play dead when you point out that Plan B is made of the same substance as other hormonal contraceptives, such as the Pill. When taken regularly, the Pill works to prevent ovulation and therefore fertilization, but like Plan B it also alters the lining of the uterus in a way that would prevent implantation. Likewise, IUDs work by preventing implantation. Both could easily be outlawed on those grounds.

Indeed, prominent supporters of the so-called personhood amendment such as the American Family Association, which has devoted $100,000 to the cause in Mississippi, openly oppose contraception, going so far as to call it eugenics and “just as bad as abortion.” Dr. Beverly McMillan, president of Pro-Life Mississippi and a member of the advisory board to Yes on 26, has openly argued that “birth control pills do indeed cause abortions.” (McMillan’s husband, by the way, is C. Roy McMillan, an advocate of “justifiable homicide“—the murder of abortion doctors.)

And it doesn’t stop there. People in Mississippi who have trouble getting pregnant would no longer be able to use reproductive technology to do so. Thank goodness Atlee Breland is doing everything she can to educate the public about the real impact of Amendment 26 on IVF: She has set up Parents Against MS 26, which contains an extensive FAQ with information verified by Resolve, The National Infertility Association, that illuminates the implication of treating embryos created with reproductive technology as people. For starters, it would create quite a liability for the clinics that create and store embryos. Plus, I’m pretty sure freezing “people” isn’t allowed.

It’s hard not to think that this is another cynical effort by conservatives to get out the vote in an off-year election. Let’s hope it backfires: According to the Feminist Majority Foundation‘s organizers on the ground, college students in Mississippi are riled up and ready to go. They better be, because the ballot also includes a voter ID initiative that would disenfranchise many of them in 2012.

Maybe the politicians behind the ploy don’t know that 15.3 million American women use hormonal birth control. Support for birth control is so strong that 3 in 4 Americans approve of requiring insurers to cover it and 80 percent believe pharmacists should have to provide it regardless of their “consciences.” Among women aged 18 to 40, it is the most prescribed drug in America. IVF is increasingly common as well: In 2009 (the most recent year for which data is available), 60,190 infants were born in the US using reproductive technology.

We are certain that when voters understand that the amendment would ban both birth control and IVF, in addition to life-saving abortions, they will defeat it. But just in case, it wouldn’t hurt to get involved. ACLU Mississippi, Planned Parenthood Southeast and other Mississippi groups have joined together to fight the initiative and educate voters as to its real implications. Remember, it only takes one Supreme Court case to overturn Roe. Do you trust the same Court that thinks corporations are people to make the right choice here?

Photo from Flickr user WeNews under Creative Commons 2.0.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 521 other followers

%d bloggers like this: