Personhood USA Spokesperson Admits Mississippi Amendment Would Affect Birth Control

By Virginia Chamlee, The Florida Independent

Despite past statements to the contrary, some “fetal personhood” supporters are now admitting that, if enacted, their legislation would likely not only outlaw abortion, but some forms of birth control, as well.

Supporters of Mississippi’s “personhood” bill have long argued that it would only outlaw abortion, but many critics say that the vague wording of Amendment 26 (which would give fertilized human eggs legal status) would likely outlaw birth control pills. Speaking with NPR’s Diane Rehm yesterday, Personhood spokesperson Walter Hoye stated that if birth control ends the life of a “human being,” it would indeed be impacted by the measure.

When asked if there were any restrictions on birth control included in the amendment, Hoye said “no… well, yes,” but added that some forms of birth control (including the morning-after pill) would be outlawed.

From NPR’s Diane Rehm Show:

Hoye: Any birth control that ends the life of a human being will be impacted by this measure.

Rehm: So that would then include the IUD [intra-uterine device]. What about the birth control pill?

Hoye: If that falls into the same category, yes.

Rehm: So you’re saying that the birth control pill could be considered as taking the life of a human being?

Hoye: I’m saying that once the egg and the oocyte come together and you have that single-celled embryo, at that point you have human life, you’ve got a human being and we’re taking the life of a human being with some forms of birth control and if birth control falls into that category, yes I am.

Hoye, who is the president of the Issues4Life Foundation (a group that has erected anti-abortion billboards aimed specifically at African-Americans) also told Rehm that in vitro fertilization would not be affected by the passage of the bill, despite objections to the contrary.

Later during the show, Suzanne Novak, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, argued that the passage of Amendment 26 would put women at risk for criminal prosecution if they suffered a miscarriage.

“If a woman, let’s say, has exercised too much, or gotten in a car accident, if her fertilized egg is considered a person and, for any reason, she was at fault, she could be prosecuted for initiating that miscarriage,” she said, citing a recent case in Iowa where a woman fell down a flight of stairs while pregnant, and was arrested and threatened with prosecution following a comment she made to medical personnel that led police to believe she had fallen intentionally.

Cross-posted with the Florida IndependentAll rights reserved. Please do not reprint without permission.

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival on the Mississippi Personhood Amendment.

I Hope I Get Pregnant in Mississippi

By Abigail Collazo, Fem 2.0

Next week, Mississippi residents will get to vote on Proposition 26, the “Personhood Amendment.” This would amend the Mississippi state constitution to include in its definition of “persons” all human beings from the moment of fertilization, cloning or functional equivalent thereof. In Mississippi at least, the question of when does life begin would be answered–when a human egg is fertilized.

And so that’s why I’m hoping that when I get pregnant, it happens in Mississippi.  As a result of this amendment being passed, here’s what I and others are anticipating as the potential consequences:

1) Fertilized eggs could potentially inherit money.

2) Fertilized eggs could potentially be counted as part of the population for purposes of political representation in government. Another Congressional seat for Mississippi, please?

3) I could potentially use HOV lanes during rush hour.

4) The concept of age could change. So those who are right now 20 years old and three months are REALLY 21 years old, since we now have to count the time spent inside the mother’s body–oh wait, I mean the incubator. Still, those new 21-year-olds could now buy lots and lots of alcohol legally. Can anyone say ‘stimulating the economy’? I want to serve my country and be a part of that!

5) Laws all over the country would be inspired to change. Cruel and unusual punishment will take on many more cases as we all debate whether it’s humane to leave a person virtually locked in a tiny, cell-like a womb for all that time. Surely that’s against our moral code? Wait, what’s that? It couldn’t SURVIVE outside the womb? Well now you’re just playing into women’s need to feel self-important.

6) Birth control could become illegal as well. 15.3 million American women use hormonal birth control, but whatevs. This means men will need to either A) always wear condoms no matter what or B) not wear a condom, significantly increase the likelihood that their partner will get pregnant, and then provide lots and lots of money in child support. In addition to, you know, having a child. Which may or may not have serious mental or physical health problems. Oh yes, and the woman could die or be seriously injured during pregnancy or birth, so you may be on your own.  But no worries. Or C) Stop having sex unless the purpose is to procreate. I’m guessing men will go for option C.

7) Outlawing of abortion entirely, even though it’s a right protected by the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. I guess once other states take up this amendment too, 3 out of 10 American women will have to endure a pregnancy, give birth, and support another child they don’t feel capable of safely and successfully bringing into the world and then raising. But that’s ok, because 61 percent of women who would have had those abortions already have children, so the kids’ll have company. And it’s not like raising a kid is hard or expensive. It’s just more work.

Oh there are so many good reasons for this bill to pass, and for me to get pregnant in Mississippi. I’ll have many more privileges, my kid will likely have company, my partner will stop having sex with me unless it’s to have even more kids, and then I won’t need to read so many trashy magazine articles about pleasing my man, since that will no longer be the point. I also won’t need to worry so much about my career, or pursuit of happiness, or my health, or dignity, or my own life. So really, it’s all a blessing in disguise.

The truth is, this bill will make everyone’s lives better.

Or the opposite.

But you know, whatevs. It only really affects women anyway. And everyone knows that while fertilized eggs may soon be considered people, women still aren’t.

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival on the Mississippi Personhood Amendment.  For dozens of more posts about the impact of this incredibly dangerous legislation, check out www.HERVotes.us.  Then, go donate to Mississippians for Healthy Families to join the fight.

Cross-posted from Fem 2.0.

 Photo from Flickr user countylemonade under Creative Commons.

Personhood Amendment Threatens Women of Mississippi, Hits Home

by Latoya Veal, NOW Press Secretary


Mississippi’s Initiative 26 — the so-called “Personhood Amendment” — hits close to home for me. I was born in Mississippi and attended school there until I graduated from college. My immediate family and many, many friends still reside in the state. In just a few short days, my loved ones and all Mississippians will vote on the statewide question: “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?” This dangerously radical ballot measure would outlaw abortion and some widely used forms of contraception, placing women’s lives in grave danger.

This measure is the perfect example of the government going way too far and interfering with a woman’s control over her own body. The backers of this amendment want to stop women from accessing legal abortion care, with no regard for their personal circumstances. Legal abortion is not simply a mere matter of choice. This measure would force a rape victim to carry out a pregnancy caused by her attacker. Even a woman battling a life-threatening pregnancy could not be saved if an abortion procedure meant the difference between life and death. Outlawing abortion care will lead women to seek “do-it-yourself” and “back alley” abortions, which are not only hazardous to women’s health but could cause women and doctors to be indicted for murder for medically necessary abortions.

The National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association and other professional groups recognize implantation as the first step of a pregnancy — not fertilization. Many forms of commonly used contraception, including IUDs and some birth control pills, prevent implantation. Preventing implantation before it occurs is not abortion. While some disagree with this, their beliefs are based in ideology, not science. A constitutional amendment is a matter of public policy, not personal beliefs. It is important to keep the church in the church and the state in the state.

Mississippi currently holds the highest rate of unintended pregnancies and teen pregnancies in the U.S., as well as one of the highest poverty rates. These numbers could all increase if the measure passes, but it won’t be the only digits that will rise. According to votenoon26.org, the measure would also mean higher taxes, more government spending on social services and a bonanza for trial lawyers. Most likely, the state will become embroiled in a long costly legal battle because the measure is unconstitutional.

You may ask the question, “Why should I care about this if I don’t live in the state of Mississippi?” Mississippi is not the first state to place a personhood amendment on the ballot. A similar measure was rejected in Colorado by wide margins in 2008 and again in 2010. But this time around, I am worried that a campaign of misinformation will allow this measure to pass in my native state. I’m even more concerned that a victory could lead this extreme measure to spread from state to state. After all, in the first half of 2011, 80 laws were passed in state legislatures that restrict or put obstacles in the path of a woman’s right to choose abortion, and let’s not forget about the countless attacks to defund family planning. This could yet be another step in an aggressive round of challenges to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

It deeply saddens me to know that this amendment threatens women lives — and not just any women to me, but my sister, my nieces, cousins, former classmates, my best friend. For the next several days, I will continue to spend time talking to my family and friends back home, urging them to vote NO on Initiative 26 come Nov. 8. So, even if you don’t live in Mississippi or have ties to the state, you can still help by spreading the word and/or donating to defeat this outrageous measure. Let’s not sit back and watch the reproductive freedom be taken away from the women of Mississippi while their lives are placed in jeopardy. Instead, let’s take a stand with them and help fight this extreme measure.

Cross-posted with Say It, Sister! NOW’s Blog for Equality

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival on the Mississippi Personhood Amendment.

Initiative 26 and “Personhood”: A Lesson in Deductive Reasoning

By Bettina Hager, National Women’s Political Caucus Programs Director

IF

According to Justice Scalia in 2011: Women are not defined in the Constitution as “persons.”

AND

As asserted by Mississippi’s Initiative 26: “Personhood” begins at the time of conception.  Heretofore, criminalizing abortion, miscarriage and birth control pills.

THEN: Only male life (as persons) begins at conception. Therefore, abortion, miscarriages and birth control that prohibits fertilization of female life is fully legal.

No, that just doesn’t seem right.  I guess two irrationalities really don’t make a logical point.

We seem to be at the dawn of a new political era.  A time when reason and logic are overruled by emotional reactionism, often at the result of a union of church and state.  A time when the simple muttering of “initiative” or “resolution” can send chills down a woman’s back.

On the ballot in the upcoming November 8th elections one can find a multitude of conservative measures.  Simply put, the aim is to take back the Civil Rights that have been so passionately fought for over recent, and many, decades.  One not so discreet example can be found in Mississippi, under the guise of “personhood” or Initiative 26.

Initiative 26 aims to assert that “personhood” begins at the moment of conception- when the sperm works its way into the egg.  As a result, any harm caused to this fertilized egg, embryo, fetus, or whatever term you prefer, would be criminal.  This technically would put not only the right to choice under assault, but also family planning via birth control and even miscarriage.

One would hope that this knowledge would alarm women instantly of the possible harm and control the government would hold over them.  However, it’s polling rather well.

In a moment of liberal compassion, a group of young feminists and I tried to understand the logic behind the minds who put forth such legislation.  After a minute or two we stopped.  We realized it didn’t matter and truthfully we didn’t care- it had little effect on our lives.  Their thoughts, their actions, their choices, that is.  The legislation, well, that truly can affect us- our thoughts, our actions, our choices.  It seemed unfair, oppressive, and yes, very illogical.

One may wonder why a single initiative in a single state is such a big deal.  Well, it goes back to that domino analogy.  Once you figure out the perfect angle to knock down the first piece in the set, the rest fall easily into place.  We must use our hands, voices and votes to block this initial play.  If we let even one state fall, we may not be able to stop the rest from following.

Cross-posted from NWPC Blog.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

On Personhood

By Lauren Levine, Jewish Women International Executive Associate

On November 8, Mississippi voters will be asked the question, “Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?” The proposed constitutional amendment, known as Initiative 26 or the “Personhood Amendment” is the pro-life movement’s attempt to overturn Roe V. Wade, starting in Mississippi.

But Mississippi is more than just the home to the personhood amendment. It is the state with the highest infant mortality rate in the U.S. In fact, it’s the only state to hit double digits with 10.6 deaths per 1000 births (CDC). Mississippi has the highest birthrate amongst teenagers aged 15-19, at 65.7% of all births in 2008 (CDC). And since this proposed constitutional amendment is motivated by religious beliefs, it should be noted that is also the state with the highest rate of unmarried pregnancies (CDC).

Given these shocking statistics, it’s shameful that anti-choice groups have made this the focus of political debate in Mississippi. Instead of proposing religiously and politically motivated legislation, lawmakers in Mississippi must bring attention to issues that will actually improve the lives of their constituents- improved preventative health coverage and comprehensive sexual education. Actual persons in the Magnolia state deserve better than Initiative 26.

Cross-posted from Jewish Women International.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health Stands with Mississippi for No on 26

by Natalie D. Camastra, Policy Intern, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

As the only national organization advocating for the fundamental human right to reproductive health and justice for Latinas, their families and their communities, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) stands in solidarity with Mississippians who oppose Proposition 26, which would undermine the rights and health of Latinas and all women:  from those wanting to plan and space their pregnancies to women who want to carry their pregnancies to term healthfully.

On Tuesday, November 8th 2011 Mississippians will go to the polls to vote on a proposition that is being described as one of the most serious threats to a woman’s right to make decisions over her reproductive health. Proposition 26, also known as, “The Personhood Amendment” would amend the Mississippi state constitution to include in its definition of “persons” all human beings from the moment of fertilization, cloning or functional equivalent thereof.  Life, under the proposed amendment, would begin at the moment that a human egg is fertilized.

NLIRH recognizes that by defining a fetus as a “person,” and endowing the fetus with the legal rights and privileges of personhood, the state strips away the rights of women to be the central authorities in all decisions about her reproductive health and choices, even in cases when her life is threatened or endangered.

  • Proposition 26 would outlaw abortion, a medically-safe and legal procedure that three in ten U.S. women will obtain by the age of 45, of which 25% are Latina. Abortion is sometimes necessary to protect the life and health of the pregnant woman.
  • Proposition 26 could outlaw the use of many forms of contraception, including “the pill”, intrauterine devices and the morning-after pill.  In fact, many forms of contraception, including “the pill” work to prevent pregnancy by making the uterus inhospitable to a fertilized egg. Latinas already face myriad challenges to accessing birth control; Proposition 26 would reverse whatever rights and access Latinas in Mississippi have to safe and effective methods of contraception.
  • By lifting the fetus’s rights to those of personhood, Proposition 26 complicates a doctor’s oath to protect the life and health of his or her pregnant patient, which can have serious consequences for the patient’s health.
  • Proposition 26 is misguided: the biological reality is that most fertilized eggs never develop into human begins. Granting these entities with legal rights of personhood goes too far.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health advocates for a standard of care that will provide Latinas with options to make decisions about their reproductive health and care: these options must be supported by medically accurate information and free from biased and coercive policies and practices.

Proposition 26 relies on biological and reproductive misinformation to undermine whatever reproductive rights and options Latinas and all women have: rights and options necessary to determine her life’s course, her participation in family and society, and her health.

We urge you to stand with us and Mississippians to vote NO on Proposition 26.

Cross-posted from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

This blog post is part of the HERvotes Mississippi Personhood Amendment Blog Carnival. For more information about Proposition 26 and how to help Mississippi defeat the proposition, please visit Mississippians for Healthy Families.

For more information about the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health here.

Mississippi Blues

By Holly L. Derr, Ms. Magazine

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 in thinning the lining of the uterus they may, 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.

Supporters of Amendment 26 have offered no evidence that the law, vaguely written as it is, won’t be used to make birth control illegal. 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. 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 Students Voting No on 26 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 U.S. 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?

Cross-posted from Ms. Magazine Blog

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Photo from Flickr user WeNews under Creative Commons 2.0.

Race, Class, and Rights in Mississippi: How A Reproductive Justice Campaign Can Save the Pill and Save the Vote

By Loretta Ross, Founder and National Coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective

The 2011 Mississippi ballot Initiative 26 on Personhood and Initiative 27 on Voter ID exclusions may be one of the most important opportunities on the ground for the Pro-Choice and Reproductive Justice Movements to work together. In Mississippi, we are witnessing the intersection of race and gender politics in a campaign in which African American voters are probably the most critical constituents when they go to the polls on November 8. It’s a case study on Roe v. Wade intersecting with the Voting Rights Act and the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.

For the Reproductive Justice movement, this is an example of theory meeting practice in which we have an opportunity to link our human rights struggles in a statewide campaign. The best spokespeople are readily talking about both ballot initiatives consistently by bringing together women, families, race, and poverty. By co-joining race (Voter ID-27) with gender (Personhood-26), we have an excellent opportunity to experience an example of intersectionality in practice in an electoral campaign in which black women may be the very voters we need to move the needle against our opponents’ long-term manipulation of the African American electorate.

We have to strengthen the common ground between the Reproductive Justice and Pro-Choice movements based on linking human rights issues together. Reproductive Justice is our best opportunity to join middle-class women with poor women so that we can win for all women.

I believe we have a strong chance of winning in Mississippi because I trust that African American people, especially black women, will do the right thing and vote against these initiatives if they are given the opportunity to vote, the motivation to vote, and the right information with which to vote. In Mississippi, with its troublesome history of denying black people the right to vote, disenfranchisement through Voter ID is a very important issue that will bring them to the polls. Our task is to convince them to also vote against the Personhood Initiative.

We’re at a great time because the media outlets want to talk about this. We don’t lack an audience. What we lack is a unified message that is intersectional, credible and legitimate and that includes everyone’s concerns. We have to make parallels between race and gender so that people easily understand that we take their human rights seriously.

African Americans are the largest bloc of Democratic voters in the state, far outnumbering pro-choice voters in the Republican Party. Nationally, African Americans are consistently pro-choice and outpace every other racial group in research polls. In addition, it’s easier to vote “no” on two co-joined initiatives that are so vague and lead to disastrous and unknown consequences.

While racial indifference might fly below the radar in another state, Mississippi is more than one-third African American, the highest concentration of black people in the country. The majority of white voters in Mississippi are Republican. The majority of Democratic voters are African Americans who should not be taken for granted or for fools. Both ballot initiatives violate basic human rights. The implications of ignoring the twinned priorities of the African American community are enormous.

In Mississippi, voters are asked by our mutual opponents to vote yes to support a deeply flawed, unconstitutional ballot initiative declaring the fertilized egg as a person from the moment of conception. This creates dangerous unintended consequences for women, doctors, families, and communities. Such government intrusion is bad for our health decisions, bad decision making by the government that should create jobs, and not in line with our values. When the government goes too far, anti-abortion bans cause it to lack compassion for rape and incest victims, and women needing life-saving medical treatments that doctors may be forced to deny to save a fertilized egg. It will force young girls to have kids, and outlaw basic services like birth control pills or emergency contraception.

Personhood efforts actually attempt to trump women’s biology – the vast majority of “fertilized eggs” are lost through menstruation or absorbed into the woman’s body so that only a tiny fraction go on to become pregnancies. Ironically, it will also prevent women who want to become pregnant from using in-vitro fertilization.

Similarly, consequences for Voter ID are grim. If people are kept from voting – because of the lack of government ID or missing birth certificates – then Mississippi returns to the sixties when voter denials based on race and gender were common and mocked our democracy. In the future, our movements will face an even more Republicanized state legislature, guaranteeing that women’s and civil rights will be violated.

What can we do to make our collective effort stronger now?

In message trainings, experts say to start with where the audience is, and then move them to where we want them to be. If campaigns are about communications, then our messages must link the racial and gender politics of Mississippi.

As said in the New York Times on October 25, anti-choice sentiments cross party and racial lines. As an activist who has worked more than 35 years in this movement, I don’t assume that when African Americans say they are “pro-life” that they mean implacable opposition to abortion. In fact, there are many circumstances, including saving a woman’s life, helping victims of rape or incest, or reducing the number of kids raising kids that are strong values in the African American community that convince them to be both pro-choice and pro-life. They have complicated positive and negative feelings about abortion like most people.

However, when it comes to passing laws controlling other people’s bodies and choices, the needle strongly moves to our side because African Americans have an atavistic rejection of anything resembling enslavement. We know that story very well.

In Mississippi, the proponents of the campaign on 26 are listening so that things are changing. Information linking 26 and 27 now appears on literature by the statewide campaign, Mississippians for Healthy Families (MHF). Forums in black churches are planned together by the leaders of the 26 and 27 initiatives in the week before the election, such as the NAACP working with MHF. The Feminist Majority Foundation sent campus organizers who immediately started organizing on both ballot measures distributing literature on both initiatives. The grassroots movement that Allison Korn from National Advocates for Pregnant Women spoke about in an article on RH Reality Check is a strong testament. We must celebrate all sides coming together on the proverbial common ground.

These efforts to reach unity are welcome but come nearly at the goal line, if you will forgive the football analogy from a sports fan. How much more powerful and prepared could we have been together if we had recognized this incredible opportunity earlier?

Our movement’s messages must make clear how Mississippi’s proposed Voter ID ballot initiative will negatively affect seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, immigrants, transgendered people, and students. This is an excellent moment for our movement to show that we clearly recognize the Voter ID initiative in this state for what it really is – a racist attempt to cynically attack the African American electorate under the auspices of curbing voter fraud.

As feminists, we have to remember Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier’s admonition nearly 20 years ago when she warned us that the Voting Rights Act was under attack. Voting rights is a feminist issue because estimates say that 35 million women could lose their right to vote if such laws are passed across the country, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation. A century ago, our foremothers fought for the right to vote. Dare we take for granted that this basic human right is secure against attacks by Republicans?

A simple message might be: Vote NO! Save the Pill on 26! Save the Vote on 27! Or TWO NO’S MAKE A RIGHT! Clear, consistent, concise. While these types of messages lack the nuances that we who use too many words may prefer (and we know who we are!), they are simple, consistent and easily remembered memes for our audiences. We can add nuances in face-to-face and phone conversations because personal voices and heartfelt convictions are sincere in our grassroots mobilization efforts.

At the same time, both messages carry with them our central theme of unintended consequences. The supporters of both initiatives would rather ignore the probability that birth control will be outlawed and that voters without birth certificates could not vote. Women of color will be the first and majority of the casualties of the Personhood Initiative if women are investigated for miscarriages. Mississippi already has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country. If the Voter ID Initiative passes, it is highly likely that the voters most affected will be voters of color. We know this in our guts. Now we have to believe it with our higher reasoning brains.

Our job is to point out these second-order consequences, but our strategy has to be to link the two together.

Obviously, as I write this article I do not know whether we will win because we are only days from the election. But my stomach is churning with anxiety because I care so much. I’m part of a movement of black and white women who need to make a case study of Mississippi to learn what we need to do together when race intersects with abortion politics around the country. Other Personhood and Voter ID efforts will proliferate in 2012.

SisterSong and the Trust Black Women Partnership have folks on the ground in Mississippi doing grassroots advocacy. We’ve built bridges between black and white folks working on the same team for united work on 26 and 27. If the African Americans working on this campaign do not understand the logic of disconnecting the two issues, it is likely that voters we need may not understand our tortured logic as well.

In some ways, it’s ironic that when anti-abortion groups like the Radiance Foundation that put up the billboards accusing black women of committing genocide, the Trust Black Women Partnership easily decoded their fundamental message – they don’t trust black women. We cannot afford to send the same message – we don’t trust black women to understand the African American community.

Our movement needs a checks-and-balances system beyond the ballot box. This means we must learn the difference between the language of respect vs. the discipline of respect. Public displays of privilege, empty rhetoric, and group-think jeopardize our chances for success.

We have known for a year – probably back to 2009 – that Mississippi would be a battleground in our fight. After the election, we must work together to overcome our reluctance to talk about what we did or didn’t do, regardless of the outcome.

My fear is that if we win, some folks will fail to acknowledge that the African American voters delivered the victory. If we lose, then some may say it was similar to the California gay marriage ballot that some falsely claim was lost because of the black voters in California. In reality, it is the failure of those who run campaigns based on outdated campaign models to invest sufficient resources in the African American community to swing the pendulum our way among some of the most consistent and committed Democratic voters on human rights issues.

Southern African American activists have been sounding the alarm to invest much-needed dollars at the grassroots level in Mississippi and throughout the South for quite some time, recognizing that the Civil Rights movement is not over, and that the Women’s Rights movement is embryonic in our region. Those fighting against the Voter ID initiative around the country and especially in Mississippi are clearly under-funded and lack the resources to provide their own polling research, campaign offices, phone banks, etc. We have been forced to do “quick-fix” organizing and mobilizing in Mississippi; had the call of African American reproductive justice activists been heeded, we could have been stronger and united as two movements working together to save women’s lives and women’s votes.

As Celie famously said in The Color Purple, “Until you do right by us, nothing will go right for you.” To be heard, do black women have to bring Nina Simone back to sing her famous song about Mississippi?

Cross-posted from RHRealityCheck.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Photo from “I’m Voting No on 26!” album on the Mississippians for Healthy Families Facebook page.

Standing Together with Mississippi Families

By Thomas Dollar, NARAL Pro-Choice America

On Tuesday, November 8, Mississippians will vote on a measure that would ban abortion care and possibly most types of birth control in the Magnolia State.

I’m talking about Initiative 26, Mississippi’s “personhood” ballot measure. “Personhood” measures are one of anti-choice extremists’ new, backdoor ways to ban abortion care.

These extremists are so cruel that they would force a woman who survives rape or incest to carry a pregnancy caused by her attacker.

We can’t stand by and let this attack on the women of Mississippi go unanswered.

NARAL Pro-Choice America is standing together with Mississippians for Healthy Families to stop Initiative 26.

Mississippians for Healthy Families is a coalition of women and men, doctors, attorneys, and faith leaders. They are working day and night to educate voters on the extreme medical and legal ramifications of Initiative 26 because Mississippians need more access to health care, not less.

Here’s how you can help:

“Like” Mississippians for Healthy Families on Facebook.

Sign up to receive email updates about the campaign.

And if you live in Mississippi (or know people who do), be sure to go out and vote NO on Initiative 26 on Tuesday, November 8.

Cross-posted from Blog for Choice.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Photo from Mississippians for Healthy Families.

Why I’m Glad My Miscarriage Wasn’t in Mississippi

By Kim Gandy, Feminist Majority Foundation Vice President

I had a miscarriage in 1991. No one accused me of murder. No one arrested and jailed me on suspicion of abortion. No one charged me with endangering the miscarried fetus.

If Initiative 26 to amend the Mississippi constitution passes next week, that won’t be true for the next woman who miscarries. She will be looking over her shoulder for the police (not the anti-abortion police, the real badge-carrying kind) to question her about the circumstances and maybe arrest her if she doesn’t have a doctor who can offer a satisfactory explanation.

Think I’m exaggerating? Think again. Initiative 26 would define a fertilized egg, from the moment of conception, as a legal “person” with all the rights and legal protections of a living, breathing child. From the moment of conception. So a miscarriage would be murder, unless you could prove it was accidental. And of course, so would an abortion–at any stage, no matter how early.

Yep, the birth control pill too–because hormonal pills can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Yes, I know, implantation is the accepted medical definition of pregnancy, and you’re not yet pregnant if the fertilized egg hasn’t implanted in the uterus–but why should Mississippi care what the obstetricians and gynecologists say?

What about an ectopic pregnancy, where a fertilized egg has implanted in the fallopian tube? Would surgery to remove it be prohibited? Maybe yes, because there is no exception to preserve the life of the woman. Seriously: no exception.

Worst of all (could it be worse?) is this: If this passes in Mississippi, it will encourage our opponents to put it on ballots in key states such as Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin next year, affecting millions of women and bringing ultraconservative voters to the polls. If we win in conservative Mississippi, it will discourage them from pursuing this strategy in (even slightly) more progressive states. Think about it.

I was fortunate to have had my miscarriage in circumstances of care and support, where the trauma of miscarriage was not compounded by threat of prosecution.

If you have friends in Mississippi, they may not be so lucky. If you haven’t talked with them lately, this would be a good time to call, write, text, Facebook or otherwise remind them to Vote No on 26 next Tuesday. It could affect far more than Mississippi. Don’t let it slip your mind–do it now.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

 Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Skiddie2003.