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Mississippians Rightfully Reject Personhood Amendment

Legal Rights for Fertilized Egg Goes Too Far for Voters

SOURCE: AP/Rogelio V. Solis

Amelia McGowan, an attorney for the ACLU of Mississippi, left, and Rebecca Kiessling, a family law attorney, right, listen as Stephen Crampton, general counsel for Liberty Counsel discusses the implications of Mississippi's Personhood Initiative.

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See also: Mississippi Fast Facts by Jessica Arons

Mississippi voters yesterday soundly defeated Initiative 26, the so-called Personhood Amendment, by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent. The vague proposition, which would have defined a fertilized egg as a person, threatened a multitude of untold consequences. The Mississippi constitution alone has 9,000 references to the word “person,” aside from the number of times it appears in state statutes.

But the known consequences were numerous and chilling:

  • A total ban on abortion in all circumstances
  • A ban on most forms of birth control, including the pill and emergency contraception
  • A ban on many aspects of common fertility treatments
  • A ban on stem cell research

The measure also would have made any miscarriage automatically suspect and subject to criminal investigation—and might have outlawed the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, a medical emergency where an embryo implants in the ovaries or fallopian tubes instead of the uterus.

As it is, Mississippians have enough trouble taking care of the children they do have. The statistics tell a grim tale. Mississippi has the highest rate of poverty in the nation, with 22.4 percent of the state living below the federal poverty level in 2010, and also has the worst amount of food insecurity. It is also the last in health and academic achievement. Almost one-third of its children live in poverty, and for children under age 5, almost two-thirds are poor.

The state also experiences the most childhood deaths—34 for every 100,000 children ages 1 to 14. The infant mortality rate is 10.6 for every 1,000 live births, compared to a national rate of 6.8; and African American babies are two and a half times more likely to die in their first year of life than white babies (15.1 versus 6.9 per 1,000 live births).

Reproductive health outcomes are equally bad. The state is ranked 45th for maternal mortality. Eighteen percent of births in Mississippi are preterm, and 11.8 percent are low birthweight, compared to national rates of 12.3 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively. The teen birth rate is 65.7 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 (the U.S. rate is 41.5). And 61,000 women received subsidized contraception from the federally funded Title X Family Planning Program in 2008, but that does not even represent the full need.

With such dire numbers, it is no wonder some in Mississippi feel the need to “protect life.” But they should focus on the lives of those who have already been born and not look for more ways to erect barriers to urgently needed reproductive health care. Today in Mississippi there is only one abortion clinic left in the state, putting quality, timely, and affordable abortion care out of reach for far too many women.

In a state where so many parents struggle to feed the children they already have, attempting to take away women’s ability to prevent pregnancy, end an unplanned pregnancy, and manage a wanted pregnancy is nothing other than pure cruelty. Thankfully, Mississippi voters recognized this and stood up and said “no.”

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Jessica Arons is Director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress.

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