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Mississippi Votes No on Initiative 26, but Zygote-Rights Zealots Press On

...efforts to grant eggs, embryos and fetuses entirely independent constitutional status would [deny] pregnant women their rights to life, liberty and medical-decision making.

by Akiba Solomon

Even in Mississippi—a Bible belt state with only one abortion clinic—58 percent of voters rejected Ballot Initiative 26, the so-called Personhood Amendment that would have granted zygotes the same rights as the women who carry them.

Sponsored by the Colorado-based evangelical Christian group Personhood USA, and modeled after a provision that failed in Colorado twice, Initiative 26 would have outlawed abortion in Mississippi, even in cases of rape, incest, domestic violence and life-threatening pregnancy. In addition, this change in the state’s constitution would have criminalized in-vitro fertilization and birth control methods including the IUD.

 

Personhood Mississippi head Les Riley—who in June sponsored a “Conceived in Rape” speaking tour to promote Initiative 26—refused to acknowledge the loss: “We are not conceding because we did our duty. We have obeyed God,” he told CNN. Proponents are reportedly planning another personhood initiative in Mississippi and preparing to bring it to 2012 ballots in Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada and California.

Governor elect Phil Bryant, who co-chaired the Yes on 26 coalition of anti-abortion activists from Personhood Mississippi, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, the Christian Action Commission of Mississippi Baptists and Pro-Life Mississippi, declared the failed effort “a battle of good and evil of Biblical proportions.” Reportedly, Bryant has also called the defeat of 26 a win for Satan.

Meanwhile, Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, considers yesterday’s results as a victory—not for Satan, but for would-be mothers and “the impressive, diverse grassroots opposition to the measure.” (In addition to reproductive rights stalwarts such as Planned Parenthood, medical groups such as Mississippi Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and an ad hoc group called Mississippi Doctors Against #26 came out in force.)

“The argument that eggs and fetuses may be treated as if they are legally independent of the women who carry them has been used to deprive pregnant women of their status as full constitutional persons,” she explained in a pre-election email. “For example, Angela Carder , [a Washington, D.C. woman] was forced to have Cesarean surgery to advance the rights of the fetus inside her. Shortly after the surgery, both the baby and Ms. Cardner died. And when Christine Taylor in Iowa was five months pregnant and fell down a flight of stairs, she assumed that she had the right to privacy in her medical information. Hospital staff, however, reported her to the police and she was arrested for the made-up crime of ‘attempted fetal homicide.’ As these and other examples demonstrate, efforts to grant eggs, embryos and fetuses entirely independent constitutional status would [deny] pregnant women their rights to life, liberty and medical-decision making.”

Clearly, the defeat of Initiative 26 is great news, but it’s a muted victory thanks to the passage of Mississippi’s photo voter ID Initiative 27. A whopping 62 percent of voters said yes to the state requiring government-issued photo ID to vote. Mississippi NAACP State President Derrick Johnson told The Grio, “We oppose Photo Voter ID because we see it as a vote suppression method. It’s akin to poll taxes and other dirty tricks that oppressed black residents of this state for a century.”

Loretta J. Ross, national coordinator for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, is encouraging folks to tackle both issues—simultaneously—as a matter of human rights.

“SisterSong and the Trust Black Women Partnership will continue to work against Personhood Initiatives and Voter ID exclusions across the country as a matter of Reproductive Justice because we know our opponents don’t retreat; they just regroup,” Ross said in a pre-election email yesterday. “Everyday people should never take our human rights for granted, but fight like our lives are on the line. That means having conversations—even difficult ones—with family members, in our churches, and in our schools about how important women’s lives are, and how we should not be pawns in a population-control scheme to benefit others.”

This article originally appeared on Colorlines.com on November 9, 2011.

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