A social experiment was conducted last week by some folks from Colorado, and it failed. The implications of that failure ought to bring some relief to those of us who believe in women’s equality.
Personhood USA, the Colorado Springs-based Christian group that wants to see fertilized eggs given personhood and full constitutional rights, was behind the experiment. Having twice failed by overwhelming margins to win voter approval for a “personhood” amendment in Colorado, the group set its sights on more fertile territory — Mississippi.
Women’s rights advocates have often called Mississippi the worst state in the nation to be a woman, in part due to its restrictive abortion laws. If Roe v. Wade should ever be overturned, abortion would immediately become illegal in Mississippi. Currently, there is a single abortion provider in the state, forcing 91 percent of the women in Mississippi to travel across the state or out of state for abortion care. A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information intended to discourage her from having an abortion. Then she must wait 24 hours before the procedure can be performed. Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two separate trips to the medical facility. For poor women, this means shouldering the expense not only of travel, but also an extra night in a hotel.
It’s not surprising that the folks at Personhood USA, not very popular in their home state, should look to a state like Mississippi. Up to Nov. 8, when Mississippi voters went to the polls, Initiative 26, which would have banned abortion without exceptions and made certain forms of birth control and fertility treatment illegal, as well, was expected to pass.
But when voters reached the secrecy of the polls, they voted against it. The measure failed, with 58 percent of voters in that very conservative, very religious state rejecting Initiative 26.
Some voters were concerned about the proposed amendment’s impact on in-vitro fertilization, which often results in unwanted frozen embryos. Others knew that birth control pills, emergency contraception and intrauterine devices (IUDs) would be outlawed as well, given that they can result in a woman’s body rejecting a fertilized egg (something women’s bodies do naturally quite often). Still others didn’t want to see their daughters, wives and sisters subjected to criminal investigations and forensic vaginal exams after miscarriages, as occurs in Guatemala as the result of a similar law.
And what would happen to women who were pregnant but found out they had ectopic pregnancies or cancer? Would they be forced to give up their own lives for that of their fetuses? Would doctors who gave women medication be indicted if that medication resulted in a miscarriage? Would women be held accountable if participation in sports or other activities led them to miscarry?
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a staunch anti-choice Republican, told MSNBC, “I am concerned about some of the ramifications on in vitro fertilization, ectopic pregnancies where pregnancies [occur] outside the uterus and in the fallopian tubes. That concerns me, I have to just say it.”
These same reasons led Colorado voters overwhelmingly to reject personhood amendments twice, most recently in 2010. The fact that these same reasons resonated with voters in Mississippi ought to be reassuring to those of us concerned about reproductive rights. If Personhood USA can’t pass a “personhood” amendment in Mississippi, it’s extremely unlikely that such a measure will pass anywhere.
But Personhood USA — it’s embarrassing to think they’re just down I-25 — isn’t discouraged and stands by its goal of getting similar measures on the ballots of Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada and California in 2012.
As hot-button an issue as abortion is, it’s pretty clear that the average American doesn’t want to see it become inaccessible to rape and incest victims, women with badly deformed fetuses and those whose lives are in peril. Nor do most Americans want to lose access to the most reliable forms of contraception. At a time when extremists dominate the public conversation on abortion, those of us who favor a woman’s right to choose can take at least some reassurance from that.