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.
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.