As a woman and a feminist living in Mississippi, I have to comment on the personhood movement and the upcoming vote in November for Amendment 26. Aiming to define life as beginning at the moment of conception, not only would abortion become illegal, but we could lose many types of birth control pills, contraceptives, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, and life-saving procedures that have to be performed in emergencies when a pregnant woman’s health is endangered by her pregnancy.
It’s not surprising that, after this kind of law failed to pass (twice) in Colorado, personhood activists have set their sights on my consistently conservative home state. And, as in Colorado, the tactics used to recruit votes for personhood are extreme and ridiculous. In a piece written for the Clarion Ledger, Dr. Freda Bush writes,
In our federal Constitution, my ancestors, who were brought to the United States as slaves, were recognized as 3/5 of a human person for voting representation. It was a great civil rights victory when the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, acknowledging the African American as a “whole” person, deserving the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The great civil rights injustice of our day is being levied against our innocent, unborn children. In the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, unborn human beings are not recognized as even 3/5 of a person, and can be killed at any stage of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever. Initiative 26 recognizes what we all know intuitively, scientifically and spiritually – that we are persons from the moment of our biologic beginnings, endowed by our Creator with the same inalienable rights.
First of all, it’s simply untrue that abortions are being done “at any stage of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever.” As anti-choice activists often do, she is trying to portray women who have abortions as reckless and heartless, deciding on a whim to end a pregnancy. She can’t acknowledge that abortion can be a decision that is difficult, emotional and absolutely right for some women. And we all know that late term abortions are difficult to get; they certainly aren’t happening all the time, on a whim. (She also tries to use her position as an OB/GYN to persuade readers; however, since the Mississippi Chapter of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists has come out against personhood, I’m sticking with them.)
She also uses another common tactic of personhood activists: comparing the fetus to a slave. Of course, in the South slavery can still be a touchy subject. We certainly don’t like to be reminded of our sordid past, or admit that our ancestors from not that long ago may have been involved. To me, it feels like, by invoking memories of slavery and racism, personhood activists are saying “Make up for the past! Vote for personhood!”
The comparison between undeveloped eggs and fetuses to slaves is simply ridiculous, and the implied comparison between women and slave owners is even worse. Women making conscious decisions about their bodies, lives and families are not like slave owners who bought, sold, overworked, beat and killed thousands and thousands of people. Women who want to plan their families, space out their children, put off childbearing, or even remain childless are just that: women. Women who want an equal place in this world. Women who want their lives to be in their control. And if amendment 26 passes, these women will be the slaves.
Luckily, not all Mississippians are in support of this amendment. I’ve heard many people, pro-choice and pro-life alike, who are speaking out against this initiative. The truth is, no matter what your opinion on abortion, the personhood amendment has potential consequences that reach far and wide. Facebook groups such as Ole Miss Rebels Against Initiative 26, Vote No on Mississippi Amendment 26 and Mississippi State Women and Men Against Amendment 26 are just a few of the groups that have popped up to spread the word. The organization Mississippians for Healthy Families is spreading information and linking articles about the amendment on both Facebook and Twitter (@MS4HealthyFams) as well as their own website. I’ve seen flyers around my own hometown of Oxford calling for people to “Vote No!” (Show support for Mississippi by joining any of these groups, liking Mississippians for Healthy Families on Facebook, following on Twitter, and speaking out against personhood!)
So even though I live in Mississippi, and am often disappointed (politically speaking) by the conservative leanings of my state, I do have hope.