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.

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.

Losing Your Rights Via Personhood

By Janet Hill, Coalition of Labor Union Women, National CLUW Vice President (United Steelworkers)

Don’t be fooled by Initiative 26, Mississippi’s the “personhood amendment.” Government has gone too far and this amendment raises many disturbing questions about the status of women if enacted. The essential question to ask is, if a woman is lying unconscious in a burning building with a rack of embryos, which would be saved first? Initiative 26 would seem to imply the rack of embryos. Why else would Initiative 26 make it possible to deny lifesaving treatment to women? It raises serious questions about medical treatment of common problems such as ectopic pregnancies, infertility and even high-risk pregnancies. This could be why the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and Mississippi Chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are opposed to this initiative. Clearly it comes between the doctor and his or her patient. The Mississippi Nurses’ Association and the Mississippi State Medical Association oppose it as well.

Even more appalling, a girl raped by her father could be forced by the state to bear her father’s child because there are NO allowances for rape or incest. This goes against all of our society’s values. Perhaps this is why Catholic Bishops in several states oppose this law.

Initiative 26 also poses this disturbing question: If a woman miscarries, no matter how early, no matter what the reason, does the personhood amendment allow her to be charged with murder? Keep in mind that between 50 and 70 percent of first-trimester miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg. Studies estimate that between 30 to 50 percent of fertilized eggs miscarry before or during implantation.

This amendment may radically change over 4000 laws in the state and cause strange lawsuits and criminal charges. It would also outlaw many common forms of contraception. Shouldn’t a state with the highest poverty rate and 31.9 percent of its children living in poverty be thinking about creating good paying jobs not more children? Over the past decade, the cost of raising a child to 18 for a two income middle class family rose 40% to $226,920. Then there is the $155 million a year price tag for Mississippi teen pregnancies, the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rate.

The folks in Colorado voted down the personhood amendments–twice. I encourage everyone in Mississippi to vote NO on Initiative 26, aka the “personhood amendment,” November 8. If you don’t live in Mississippi but have friends and family there encourage them to vote no. Make sure to contact your state representative in Mississippi and ask her or him how this amendment creates jobs when the average income went down and more women and children are slipping into poverty. Ask how this helps create jobs and, finally, tell him or her to quit wasting time and do something about the jobs crisis.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Photo from Flickr user themonnie under Creative Commons.

Why Mississippi’s ‘Personhood’ Measure Is a Threat to Women Everywhere

By Lauren Kalina, Advocates for Youth Intern

On November 8, the state of Mississippi will vote on ballot initiative 26, which will attempt to change the Mississippi constitution to define human life as beginning at conception. The actual text of the initiative is as follows:

Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”

For the women of Mississippi, this initiative would attempt to ban abortion, certain types of birth control as well as treatment for infertility and miscarriage. This is a major violation of a woman’s reproductive rights. Additionally, Initiative 26 could have many more far-reaching, unforseen legal and political implications.

Recently, many anti-choice presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, have come out in support of this life-threatening measure. Romney, like many other conservative politicians, seems to be confused about just how extreme Initiative 26 is. Here, you can watch Rachel Maddow set men straight about how birth control works.

Women’s access to birth control could be severly limited by Initiative 26 because this measure considers a fertilized egg as a human life. However, many forms of birth control prevents the implantation of fertilized eggs, therein creating a conflict. Maybe if our politicans had received better sex education they might understand this more thoroughly…

This vote on November 8th is of particular importance to Mississippians, but should be of great importance to women all over the country. According to CNN, Mississippi is the only state with a “personhood” initiative on the ballot this year. However, according to the CNN article, similar measures are being planned for next year in Florida, Montana and Ohio; and efforts in at least five other states are in the planning stages.

A yes vote on this measure would open the floodgates for more bills such as this to be introduced in other states. Mississippians for Healthy Families has created a coalition of organizations that oppose Initiative 26. The coalition includes: the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, The American College of Obstetrician Gynecologists and many more.

Regardless of where you live, you can help make a difference in the lives of women and families throughout Mississippi by donating today to the Vote No on 26 campaign. Your support will help the campaign’s grassroots efforts to prevent the passage of this harmful initiative.

Crossposted from Amplify Your Voice.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.