Initiative 26, Dangerous Personhood Amendment, Fails in Mississippi

Yesterday, Mississippi residents voted for their next State Senate and House of Representatives, an exciting prospect for an odd-numbered year. But by a massive 130,000 vote margin (16 percentage points), Mississippi has also rejected Initiative 26, a state constitutional amendment that would have redefined the beginning of life as “the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”

What the amendment doesn’t say, of course, is that it would likely have banned hormonal birth control. It would have stopped pregnant cancer patients from having access to chemotherapy because it could hurt a fetus. If a pregnancy is ectopic — meaning that a fertilized egg has implanted outside the uterus — “the developing cells must be removed to save the mother's life,” but personhood says that the “developing cells” are just as important as the mother, so you can’t remove them. Instead, you can let those developing cells grow in a woman’s stomach or fallopian tubes or elsewhere until she dies — and those cells likely die with her.

Yes on 26, a pro-personhood amendment group, wants to know why anyone would “lie” about the fact that Initiative 26 bans “the use of hormonal contraceptives, including most forms of ‘the Pill.’” In the process, Initiative 26 supporters have shown how little they know about women’s reproductive health. Most forms of hormonal birth control work to prevent the expulsion of an egg from the ovum, and they also change the lining of the mucus to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. Most forms of birth control, including some that many women take to deal with heavy bleeding and cramps during menstruation, may also work to stop the implantation of a zygote on the uterine wall by “causing changes in the lining of the uterus.” Since the sperm has, at this point, already fertilized the egg (although a pregnancy is not yet established), Initiative 26 could have blocked the sale of any hormonal birth control that may affect uterine walls — that is, most of them.

Initiative 26 would have caused a lot more harm than good, and its ambiguity left outspokenly pro-life politicians like Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour concerned about the possible unintended consequences of amending the state constitution in this manner — so concerned, in fact, that he may have actually voted against the amendment.

When we talk about “personhood,” we are discussing giving rights to a collection of undeveloped cells, regardless of the consequences for the women who are forced to harbor them. Initiative 26 wouldn’t have just “considered” the rights of a collection of cells, as supporters claim. Rather, the practical result of the constitutional amendment would have been the valuing of those cells over the potential mother. It could have stopped access to basic contraceptives, and with it, any sexual freedom. It would have prevented pregnant women from doing anything that may harm a fetus — like accessing chemotherapy during cancer treatment. And it would have told women that if they are raped, their inability to view children of the rapist as a blessing makes them moral failures. By granting “personhood” to developing cells, we eliminate the personhood of women who become nothing more than vessels for those cells. Thankfully, Mississippi residents knew better.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Mara Hollander

I'm a Georgetown University alum working at a market research firm in DC. I have a background in research, political polling and campaigns, healthcare politics and policy, and gender and sexuality issues. I write about sex and gender because I believe you should be able to make decisions free from predetermination by these somewhat arbitrary distinctions - and I welcome and enjoy considerate debate about whether or not they should matter!

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