USM discusses 26: Vote 'NO'
Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Updated: Thursday, November 3, 2011 16:11
About 100 people showed up at Joseph Greene Hall Tuesday for a discussion panel on Initiative 26, according to Caroline Griffin, the event's organizer. The discussion, hosted by USM's Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, focused on educating attendees on the reasons some oppose the Personhood Amendment, or Initiative 26, which would alter the Mississippi constitution to define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization.
The speakers were Atlee Breland, founder of parentsagainstms26.com; Jamie Stewart, who has worked with at-risk youth for 20 years and Sarah Shanks, the Southern Campus Organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington, D.C.
"This is not voting about what you personally think about when life begins," Breland said. "What you are being asked to vote on is when you think rights begin."
That, they said, could have far-reaching implications on health care for women.
"Do you want lawmakers in Jackson deciding about your health, or do you want you and your doctor deciding that?" Stewart said. "Us men have always had the doctor and us. But ladies, this will say the lawmaker can decide about your health."
Opponents have warned that the initiative could mean the end of everything from fertility treatments to birth control in Mississippi. But the initiative itself doesn't specifically address those issues.
"If a life is considered a person at fertilization, any termination of that whether it's hormonal birth control, IUDs, or Plan B has really strong implications," Shanks said. "We don't know how that's going to be interpreted."
Shanks pointed to the case of Rennie Gibbs of Columbus, Miss., who faces life in prison for a miscarriage she had at age 15. Authorities are charging her with depraved heart murder on the unproven basis that cocaine use may have caused the miscarriage, Shanks said.
Shanks said that Gibbs' case proves that there is precedent for such charges if Initiative 26 passes.
Another area of opposition for opponents is one that Breland said is very close to her heart.
"I am a Mississippian, I am a Christian, and thanks to infertility treatment, I am the mother of three children," Breland said.
Breland said that without in vitro fertilization, she and her husband would have neither their son nor their two daughters.
"When I heard about 26 some months ago, I knew it could have serious consequences for families dealing with infertility."
She explained her fear that because numerous eggs are fertilized in the IVF process, effective means IVF could be outlawed. Without the fertilization of multiple eggs, she said, the success rate for the $15,000 procedure might drop into the single digits.
"Nobody has to say that IVF is illegal to force doctors here to stop being able to provide infertility treatment to patients," she said. "If I tell you driving is legal, but you can only buy one gallon of gas per month, how far do you think you're gonna get?"
While the debate surrounding the initiative has often been framed in terms of abortion, Breland said her organization doesn't take a stance on that issue.
"We're neutral on the question of elective abortion," she said. "Our belief is that families like mine, which were built through infertility treatment — we are not sacrifices in the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate. This amendment does something that a lot of pro-life people feel sincerely strongly about, but it also has these other effects that hurt real families and real people like me. We're not sacrifices in that battle."
Mississippi voters will go to the polls to vote on Initiative 26 on Nov. 8.