By GWEN SISSON
One of the most controversial issues of the November election in Mississippi is Initiative 26, commonly known as the “Personhood amendment.”
According to Mississippi’s Secretary of State’s office, if passed Initiative 26 would amend the state constitution by the addition of an new section to read: “Section 33: Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, ‘The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
Executive Director of Yes on 26 Brad Prewitt said this amendment is not as big a step for the state of Mississippi as the opposition makes it.
“You should know that personhood already exists in Mississippi law. Criminal statutes hold the fetus is a person from conception forward,” Prewitt said. “A crime against the mother is a crime against the baby. And civil law holds in cases personhood from at least quickening forward — 10 weeks in Mississippi case law.”
Prewitt said “personhood” and the impact of abortion is something the African American community understands.
“Mississippi African Americans are awakening to the costs wrought to its culture by the loss of so many to abortion,” Prewitt said. “They also understand a true civil rights movement when they see one. As Dr. John Perkins states, this is a human rights concern that is critical for our state and our country. If you can diminish and dehumanize a person, then you can get away with murder — in this case, 53 million murders since 1973. I think personhood is opening avenues of discussion between both races as well in this state. We can come together to save the unborn and recognize the true costs of denying personhood, both past and present.”
Prewitt said Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union have a $1 billion interest in abortion and are fighting this initiative.
“Personhood also corrects the falsehood that unborn persons are simply tissue or property,” Prewitt said. “That will inject a new dynamism in battling not only abortion but some of the unethical scientific research in cloning, embryonic stem cell research and beyond, such as the monstrous scientific experimentation that is transforming humanity beyond the image of God but into some hybrid animal-human creation.”
Mississippi is the first state to bring this issue to the voters to amend the state constitution with the “personhood” addition. It is expected that four additional states will have the “Personhood Amendment” on the ballot in 2012.
“But (the opposition) are scared because Mississippi’s law will burst the bubble of the lie that the unborn person does not matter and has no rights,” Prewitt said. “That lie is essential to their billion-dollar business, which includes fetal tissue sales. It is gruesome but it is real.”
Prewitt said much of the confusion and misunderstanding about the consequences of the passage of the Initiative is based in that fear.
“The reason these issues arise is because Planned Parenthood and the ACLU can’t defend abortion or disprove that life begins at conception,” Prewitt said. “So this is how they fight — by confusing women.”
Prewitt said there are some birth control approaches which would be called into question - such as some IUDs, the morning after pill, other embryocidal pharmaceuticals, but not the hormonal birth control pill.
“If you are trying to prevent pregnancy, that is fine, but if you are trying to end a pregnancy, then that is an issue,” Prewitt said. “But either way, because this is a constitutional provision, enabling legislation is required for most of this to take effect and even touch any of these areas.”
Prewitt said defining “personhood” and ending abortion forces people to be accountable.
“We can’t murder unborn babies to solve ‘problems,’” Prewitt said. “There are life-affirming options beyond abortion. Adoption agencies are begging for babies. There are as many parents awaiting babies as abortions each year. That’s a fact -- proven. And the consequence for abortion is a lifetime of guilt and pondering by the mother and sometimes severe physical setbacks. Abortion is not a cakewalk for the patient. Of course, the baby is never the problem. They are a gift from God. We need to start treating them that way.”
Many argue Initiative 26 is unconstitutional, but Prewitt said opinions from various justices and attorneys say “personhood” defined would change the Roe vs. Wade decision.
“If the unborn is no longer legally irrelevant, then the right to abortion goes away,” Prewitt said. “There are folks who wish to predict like a Vegas gambler the best path to success in defeating Roe, but you should know that it is impossible to predict courts, the jurisprudential preferences and their make-up in the future. As Christians, we are asked to do the right thing, according to God’s Word. We must be committed, and that is not always comfortable, as Dr. Jimmy Porter says. But we must do the right thing here. Personhood is right because it is Biblical, it is scientific, it is fair and just. It is common sense.”
Rachelle McKibben of Starkville said this amendment gives Mississippi the opportunity to stand strong for life.
“In an ideal world, Amendment 26, the Mississippi Personhood Amendment, would not be necessary,” McKibben said. “We should not have to define personhood -- it should be a given. But, unfortunately, there are folks out there are who want to kill the unborn for mostly selfish reasons. There are truly no unselfish reasons — although some may attempt a weak argument based on one’s perception of quality of life. Thus, at this time in our history it has become necessary for us to define personhood in order to protect human life.”
McKibben said she feels this initiative is not unconstitutional, it only seeks to define “person.”
“It will not outlaw birth control methods that prevent fertilization,” McKibben said. “It may effect methods work after fertilization that cause spontaneous abortions.”
McKibben said most of the people she has spoken with throughout the Golden Triangle support this amendment., while others are hearing misinformation and questioning the purpose.
“Once they understand the amendment, they are supportive,” McKibben said. “Just my two cents. It is not a confusing initiative. Both sides understand the implications. The opposing side, of course, wants to confuse the electorate. They have dollars and an errant ideology at stake. All those in favor want to do is protect the life of those who cannot defend themselves. A child is not the property of a parent to be disposed of at whim, but a life to be protected and nourished.”
Rebecca Haffey of Starkville said personhood is an important, vital issue that every state needs to address.
“I am proud that the citizens of Mississippi are the first willing to step up and defend the rights of all people, no matter their age, size, or ability,” Haffey said. “We are so often at the bottom of all the positive rankings and ‘behind the times’ in the eyes of much of the rest of the nation. The people of our great state now have an opportunity to set a truly meaningful and historic precedent for others to build upon in their states.”
Haffey said many in the Golden Triangle she has interacted with have been very positive and supportive of this historic initiative.
“However, there have also been a number of people I have personally interacted with that claim to be pro-life but try to find reasons to not support this particular amendment due to perceived ambiguity in the future,” Haffey said. “I have not found any reason not to wholly support it as it is written right now, and I do not understand how someone who claims to be pro-life would not take this monumental opportunity to make positive change in the law. I am unequivocally pro-life, and if I were to not vote yes on 26, I would be a hypocrite.”
Nikki Langford is a psychology student at Mississippi State University, a wife and a mother of a 3-year-old. Langford said she feels this initiative is important because as a state, voters have the opportunity to say to the rest of the nation that there is a problem and they want to fix it.
“The problem is that we are allowing our unborn children to be murdered for the sake of convenience and we aren’t going to stand for it anymore,” Langford said. “Women are being lied to about unborn babies being ‘tissues’ and ‘formless masses of cells’ and it’s not true. These unborn children are alive and we have a responsibility to protect the lives of those who cannot protect themselves.”
Langford said ‘why not now?”
“There is a quote from unknown author that says, ‘It takes courage to have integrity,’” Langford said. “The highest courage is to dare to be yourself in the face of adversity. Choosing right over wrong, ethics over convenience, and truth over popularity ... these are the choices that measure your life.”
Langford said she has received feedback on both sides of the argument throughout Starkville and the Golden Triangle.
“Many have joined the fight against abortion, including myself after many hours of research on both sides of the argument,” Langford said. “However, a lot of women, especially younger women, are worried that this will some how ban contraceptives, which is not true. This amendment only establishes that life begins at conception.”
Langford said abortifacient contraceptives are the only ones that will be banned.
“The most common contraceptives are hormonal contraceptives and serve to prevent fertilization by preventing ovulation,” Langford said. “Not to mention that if these women were using the birth control to begin with, abortions wouldn’t be needed. Plus, there is only one way to make sure you don’t get pregnant and if you’re not ready to have a baby, then you’re not ready for sex.”
Langford said many are concerned that in cases of ectopic pregnancies, doctors won’t be able to save the mothers.
“This is also not true,” Langford said. “In almost all cases of ectopic pregnancy, the pregnancy is not viable and doctors are not going to let women die for inviable pregnancies. If it is somehow viable, the doctor has to do whatever necessary to ensure that both lives are safe, which is what they do now.”
Langford said there is even a rumor that this will ban in-vitro fertilization.
“Again, not true,” Langford said. “This will ban the destroying of unused embryos.The practice itself will still be very much in use.”
Langford said others are concerned that women who conceive through rape or incest will be forced to carry and birth the child.
“No, they will not be allowed to abort the baby, but in my many hours of research, I have found that this actually ends up being better for the mother anyways,” Langford said. “They can give the child up for adoption and not have to face the physically and psychologically traumatic experience of abortion. It is physically traumatic in that it damages the uterus and increases the likelihood of future miscarriages. Abortion is psychologically traumatic in that another negative experience -- the abortion -- is compounded onto the experience of the rape. There is a sense of guilt and shame that comes along with abortion where as mothers (rape victims) who chose adoption over abortion felt a sense of joy at having brought happiness to someone who could not have children.”
Langford said the fact is that Proposition 26 will ban elective abortions and that scares a lot of people.
“They want it to be there for their own convenience, but a child should not be killed for the sake of convenience,” Langford said. “That tiny person — and yes an unborn baby is a person — has rights, too. Many claim that it is a woman’s ‘right to choose’ but why does woman have the right to take the life of an innocent child? People are so concerned about their ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms,’ but what about the rights of that child?”
Langford said the growing child is an individual person.
“It is dependent on but not part of the mother’s body,” Langford said. “To clarify this point, consider that 50 percent of developing babies (boys) have an X and a Y chromosome in each of their cells. They also have two eyes, two ears, a nose, a brain and male genitalia. If we are to believe that the child is part of the mother’s body, then we must accept that she has both male and female chromosomes, four eyes, four ears, two noses, two brains, and a set of male as well as female genitalia. Of course this is absurd.”
Langford said although a woman may have the right to do what she will with her own body, when a voluntary abortion occurs she is choosing a deadly fate for the body of a distinct and innocent person other than herself.
“This is the ultimate denial of freedom to the weakest members of our society,” Langford said. “I’m just doing what God has called me to do: protect the lives of unborn children. Every child has a purpose. Every child is a blessing.”
Langford said the only reason that Roe v. Wade was passed -- thereby making abortion legal -- is because the judge decided that scientists couldn’t come to a conclusion as to when live begins.
“The Mississippi Personhood amendment is trying to make that definition,” Langford said. “All other issues can be addressed after defining when life begins. For those unsure about it, I learned in high school biology that upon conception, there exists a distinct individual with a distinct genetic makeup.”