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Why We Should All Care About What Happens in Mississippi

November 8, 2011

Today, Mississippi voters will decide whether to add an amendment to their constitution proclaiming that life begins at fertilization “or the equivalent thereof.” It may sound like science fiction, but in reality such an amendment would not only outlaw all abortion but also, potentially, hormonal contraception.

If you think that only women in Mississippi need worry, think again. As it turns out, what happens in Mississippi does not stay in Mississippi. Check out these four reasons why:

  1. For the most cynical among us, let’s boil this down to cold hard cash. Mississippi’s teen pregnancy rate is already astronomically high. What’s that to you? Well, teen pregnancy costs US taxpayers more than $9 billion a year–teen mothers are at increased risk for becoming incarcerated, experiencing health problems and dropping out of high school, all of which cost the government money. This is one of the reasons that Mississippi receives more per capita in federal money than any other state except New Mexico. With abortion illegal, as well as Plan B and other forms of hormonal contraception, Mississippi’s teen birth rate will rise even higher, costing the government, and thus the taxpayer, even more in social services.
  2. If personhood succeeds in Mississippi, its supporters in at least seven states, including Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and California will get a big boost. Though most mainstream anti-choice movements have been hesitant to support personhood in the past, a victory in just one state could make it trendy. Three bills with language based on the Mississippi amendment have already been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, one of which has 91 co-sponsors.
  3. Still, you may ask, How will this really affect those of us that don’t live in those states? Let’s not forget we live in an increasingly interconnected world. Who knows, I may be passing through Mississippi on a road trip at the moment of a miscarriage, only to face possible murder charges. I may have to turn down a job in Mississippi because I simply can’t live in a state where I can’t use birth control. I may have to counsel a friend there who has become pregnant via rape and doesn’t want to keep the child.
  4. Finally, whether or not the amendment’s consequences cost us money, whether or not the movement infects others states, and whether or not I ever go to Mississippi or know anyone who lives there, I posit here that when anyone in America is less free than anyone else, we are all less free. If my sisters in Mississippi can’t choose whether or not to carry a child to term, can’t use birth control and can’t access IVF, I am fundamentally less free myself. Rights that apply only to some people are not rights; they are privileges.

At this point, there’s not much we can do about the Mississippi vote except cross our fingers and gear up for the next fight. If this thing passes, we better be ready to keep it from spreading and we better be ready to fight it in court. Wherever we live, we have got to wake up to the fact that the anti-abortion movement is deliberately tossing legal challenges like this at Roe v. Wade, testing whether just one might stick.

But we also have to remember that the real battle to save it will not be fought in the virtual forum of the blogosphere. It won’t be fought at the ballot box, or the legislature, or the courts (though the current Supremes are certainly not ones that I trust to respect precedent). No, the real battleground is the lives (and wombs) of women living in a state where 45 percent of the population thinks fertilized eggs are more valuable than they are.

Photo from flickr user Shoshanah under Creative Commons 2.0

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