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Friday, October 24, 2014
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    Southern Rights

    Grassroots Opposition Grows to Mississippi’s Prop 26, the Egg-as-Person Initiative

    by | Oct 26, 2011

    On November 8th, 2011, Mississippians will vote on Proposition 26, a ballot measure that, if passed, would alter the state constitution, redefining the word “person” to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. While a similar measure was defeated in Colorado by wide margins, in 2008 and again in 2010, many people fear that such a measure could easily pass in Mississippi. What few—in Mississippi or beyond—anticipated was the strong grassroots opposition that has emerged against the measure.

    How Mississippi’s Prop 26 Can Hurt ALL Pregnant Women

    On November 8th, 2011, Mississippians will vote on Proposition 26, a ballot measure that, if passed, would alter the state constitution, redefining the word “person” to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. What supporters of Prop 26 aren’t telling you is that if enacted, the measure is likely to hurt ALL pregnant women.

    I’m Southern by birth and by education. I am a native Memphian, born and bred in Memphis, TN. I’m also a proud alumnus of the University of Mississippi School of Law. Now, working as a legal advocate in the South, I am both a witness to and a participant in a rising grassroots movement throughout Mississippi.

    I can report that unlikely allies from both sides of the traditional “abortion” debate have come together in opposition of Prop 26: mothers of several children born from IVF and women who underwent treatment for ectopic pregnancies; neonatal nurses and bioethics professors; evangelical Christians and clergy; multi-generation Mississippians well into their seventies and student transplants from all over. Representatives from all of these groups have joined together in opposition to Proposition 26.

    For example, Atlee Breland, a lifelong Mississippian and Christian mother started the blog, “Parents Against MS 26.” Although she has never considered herself a “pro-choice activist,” she feels strongly about the potential impact of the measure beyond the abortion issue. Ms. Breland herself sought infertility treatment to have her three children, and she is worried about Prop 26’s impact on IVF and similar infertility treatments. Ms. Breland also distinguishes between recognizing and valuing unborn life and granting that life full legal personhood. Her blog helped inspire and create the poignant, now-viral video that moves the debate about Proposition 26 far beyond the issue of abortion.

    Another blog entitled “Deep-Fried Freethinkers” has devoted itself to answering tough questions about Prop 26, fact-checking claims made about Prop 26, and investigating the past actions and statements of some of Prop 26’s leading supporters and editorialists.

    There are also new Facebook groups whose memberships are growing by the day. One organization out of Jackson, MS, called “Mississippians for Healthy Families,” uses its FB page to generate volunteers for phone banks they are holding at sites across the state, making cold calls to provide information about Proposition 26. These FB groups also provide links to news related to Proposition 26, post information about statewide events, and encourage their members to write comments about editorials, draft letters to the editors of local newspapers, and talk to their communities about the amendment.

    Activism in Mississippi, however, is not only taking place on-line, but also in the streets. Rallies opposing Proposition 26 are popping up throughout the state, from Oxford and Starkville to Hattiesburg and Jackson, with more planned as election day approaches. For example, after a successful October 13th rally in Starkville, Mississippi State students will hold a day-long “Dance-In” on November 1, to continue raising awareness about the dangerous implications of Proposition 26.

    In Oxford, MS, home to the University of Mississippi, the North Mississippi Women for Progress hosted a “Save the Pill” rally on October 19th on the town square, focusing on how Prop 26 could be used to make a popular form of birth control illegal. A group called “Hell No! on Mississippi 26 and 27” will host a rally at the Mississippi State Capitol Building on Saturday, November 5. This is part of their broader progressive grassroots effort to help defeat Proposition 26 as well as Prop. 27 that would require voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polling place.

    Because opposition to Prop 26 is home-grown, organizers know where Mississippians gather and celebrate, and are using these events to pass out pamphlets and stickers urging a “No” vote on the measure. So, activists attended the Mississippi State Fair in Jackson armed with information, and they are planning to do the same at the Peter Anderson Festival in Ocean Springs. And on the weekends, tailgate parties and homecoming games have featured volunteers distributing fact sheets exposing what Proposition 26 is really all about.

    In the media, a diverse group of Mississippians are speaking out against Proposition 26. Individuals and organizations from university professors and local feminists, to the Mississippi Medical Association and the Mississippi Nurse’s Association, to the Bishop of Mississippi’s Episcopal Diocese have written commentaries and released statements opposing Proposition 26. Billboards opposing Proposition 26 have gone up along Mississippi’s highways and, even more recently, a concerned Mississippi man, Charles Meyer, took out a quarter-page ad in the Clarion-Ledger newspaper asking the Attorney General to “help save us from ourselves. Anti-abortion legislation should not cost the lives of thousands of innocent Mississippi women.”

    In response to growing questions and concerns about Prop 26 University departments, student organizations, and women’s groups have organized a series of Town Hall Discussions to take place across Mississippi, from Oxford to Cleveland to Jackson to Biloxi.

    I myself have now had many opportunities to speak with Mississippians all over the state about Proposition 26. I have spoken to students at the University of Mississippi School of Law, met with members of North Mississippi Women for Progress, presented at the International Center for Traditional Childbearing’s Southeast Black Midwives and Healers Summit held in D’lberville, MS, and helped facilitate a panel conversation about Proposition 26 at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS, located in an area of Mississippi famously known as “The Mississippi Delta.” Everywhere I go, I meet people who are hungry to learn more about Proposition 26 and who, regardless of their views on abortion, welcome truthful information and reflective discussion about how this measure could hurt all pregnant women – including those going to term. My commentary summarizing much of these talks was published by the Hattiesburg American last weekend and I expect that a new video about how Prop 26 could hurt all pregnant women will get significant play across the state.

    Too often, those unfamiliar with the South assume, based on stigma and prejudice, that there are few, if any, thoughtful, progressive activists in states like Mississippi. In fact, some national comments from people outside of Mississippi and in response to initiatives like Proposition 26 express sentiments similar to those expressed after Hurricane Katrina. They suggested that the solution was for people to leave the state. Similar comments written in response to stories about Proposition 26 say such things as “Women should move out of Mississippi” and “Move to a state that supports individual rights.” But Mississippians are staying and fighting back.

    As both a Southerner and a sometime-Mississippian I am actually not at all surprised by the activism that has emerged in response to Proposition 26. I saw a similar emergence after Hurricane Katrina, when individuals and communities across the Gulf Coast stood in solidarity with one another in a commitment to rebuild and renew.

    No matter what happens on November 8, it is important to recognize the growing grassroots movement in opposition to Proposition 26. These Southern, home-grown leaders and activists will still be in Mississippi beyond election day, and we must not only recognize them but also encourage and support them if we ever hope to win the long-term struggle for reproductive justice.

    Editor’s Note: This story originally published October 25, 2011 at RHRealityCheck.org 

    ###
    Allison Korn

    Allison Korn

    Allison Korn, JD is a staff attorney for National Advocates for Pregnant Women. She is a graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law. While there, she co-founded the Student Hurricane Network, a national network that brought over 4500 law students to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to provide legal assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. After graduating from law school she spent several years at the Bronx Defenders, where she was part of the inaugural class of attorneys in the organization's Family Defense Practice, representing parents in child welfare proceedings. A native Memphian, born and bred in Memphis, TN., Ms. Korn recently moved back to to the South where she works in the region from her base in New Orleans, Louisiana.

     

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    • http://hannah.smith-family.com/ Monica Smith

      It’s perhaps ironic, but giving personhood status to an egg is actually consistent with the long tradition of letting property rights trump the human rights of a natural person. Since children have no human rights and are considered the property of their parents, the personhood of the egg is unlikely to have more status before birth than after. The only result will be that property rights can be argued over sooner.
      And the paternal parent will establish his property rights how?

    • Farmer Slim

      “Too often, those unfamiliar with the South assume, based on stigma and prejudice, that there are few, if any, thoughtful, progressive activists in states like Mississippi.”

      As a lifelong Southerner who has lived in the state of Mississippi…one who IS familiar with the South…I can tell you that the number of progressive activists in states like Mississippi isn’t the problem. The problem is the ratio of progressive activists vs thoughtless, non progressives. Yes…the stereotypical holier than thou, narrow minded, bigoted Southern model exists and in overwhelmingly great numbers. The open/fair minded, tolerant, protector of individual liberties, activist model exists in overwhelmingly small numbers.

      Fortunately, it’s not always how wide the margin of majority that counts. The focus, work and tenacity of the minority is sometimes the factor that determines the outcome of efforts such as prop 26 in Mississippi.

      • http://leslieevanscreative.com Lee Leslie

        Well stated. I also wonder if “good manners” comes into play for the silent and presumed majority? What does it take to get someone off their couch and into the street or writing letters, supporting causes?

      • http://leslieevanscreative.com Lee Leslie

        The constitutional amendment for which I have long thought missing would be one that guarantees and protects my right over my body from state interference. Though the Prop 26 concern for rights for clones of me is intriguing.

        • Farmer Slim

          The Constitutional amendment I have long thought missing would guarantee these words written by John Stuart Mill about 150 years ago…
          (On Liberty)
          “The only part of conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part, which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. ”

          Mill goes on to warn against the tyranny of the majority…

          “Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it — its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.”[p.7]

          • http://leslieevanscreative.com Lee Leslie

            The tyranny of societal whims is something we must expect to address from time to time. But I beg that we seek protect the individual rights before setting out to obtain perfection. Heretofore, our experiment with democracy has proven far better than true freedom, which is, of course, is anarchy. Somewhere between the two, we may find a better way. But, at least tonight, I think that there is good from time to time in raising the passions of the people to seek change from the comfort of complacency.

            This post, I remind you, is about society choosing power over a woman’s body and the law above what an individual citizen would know is best for her life and her family’s. We have no business legislating such things. We have no business messing in anyway with the private aspects of another life. This proposed law has no other purpose.

            • Farmer Slim

              We should all shoulder the guilt for the objections we did not make. Silence is nothing less than a tacit agreement. Protest is one of the most commendable forms of patriotism.

              Re: “This proposed law has no other purpose.”

              As much as I agree with the bulk of your sentiments, Lee, the proposed law represents more than the specifics of the options or lack of options from which a woman must make her choices about bearing a child or children. This proposed legislation represents the degree to which we are (currently) willing or not to have our personal liberties defined/limited by our government. It’s another Patriot Act in that regards. The ramifications, in terms of lack of liberties, of both are many and they are overwhelmingly restrictive and invasive.

    • jingle

      I can’t be the first to notice that giving a newly-fertilized egg legal status as a person has all sorts of frightening implications: since women rarely know they are pregnant the moment they get that way, could they be charged with reckless endangerment for drinking a glass of wine? Or smoking a cigarette? What if the woman miscarries — does the government then launch a full-scale investigation to determine if she did anything that might have endangered the ovum such as drinking or smoking? In that case, would the woman be charged with murder? It’s a shame that thinking people have to spend time and effort fighting anything as stupid as Prop. 26 when there are so many genuine causes out there (homelessness, hunger, mental illness and so on) that actually need attention. Thanks for the alert, Allison.

      • Marietta Mary

        My late husband, a product of years of Roman Catholic schools (k-13), a sister who was a nun, and and Irish-Catholic mother, had a very hard time with folks who support measures like Prop. 26. His comeback was “What about YOUR rights as a human being?” I find their arguments specious, and wonder how much money has been poured into this campaign — from those who write and promulgate such drivel to those who will be charged with carrying out such a law — the police and sheriffs who have a sworn duty not only to uphold the law, but figure prominently in deciding who has broken it. And the doctors! “First, do no harm.” This is money that could be helping the homeless, the mentally ill, and the hungry.

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