Failure of 'personhood' amendment a win for women in poverty

Tuesday, Mississippi voters said no to a proposed constitutional amendment, which would have afforded any fertilized human egg with the rights of a human being. Initiative 26, known as the ‘Personhood’ amendment would have made abortions and some forms of birth control illegal.

Pro-choice advocates say the passage of the personhood amendment would have disproportionately negative implications for black women.

“An African-American, who is of low income will have a harder time getting birth control, and a harder time getting reproductive health services,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, in an interview with theGrio Tuesday, before the outcome of the vote was known. In 2006, approximately 38 percent of Mississippi’s black women were living below the poverty line.

According to Smeal, the ballot initiative, lead by Personhood USA, a conservative Christian organization based in Colorado, is just a modern attempt at keeping women ‘barefoot and pregnant’. “If you are in control of your life and you have money you can handle it. If you don’t, being in Mississippi would be very harsh,”said Smeal.

Pro-life views are not uncommon amongst Republicans or Democrats in Mississippi.

In yesterday’s Gubernatorial election, Phil Bryant, the Republican nominee and now governor-elect and his opponent, Johnny DuPree, the Democratic nominee said that they would vote in favor of the amendment. DuPree is the first African-American to be nominated for governor by a major party in Mississippi.

According Smeal the bi-partisan anti-abortion sentiment in Mississippi was attractive to Personhood USA, which has made two unsuccessful attempts to pass similar measures in Colorado. “They decided to try Mississippi thinking it’s a conservative state; and a state which frequently suppresses the vote of minorities. They think they can get away with it,” said Smeal.

Black voters may have been instrumental in the defeat of the proposal. Public Policy Polling released the results of a survey Monday, which showed that the vote for the amendment might be close. A large number of undecided voters were women, African-American or Democrat. Voters who stated their opinion on the amendment from all three groups were opposed to the amendment. Nearly 60 percent of black voters surveyed were against the amendment.
Dr. Freda Bush, an OB/GYN in Jackson, MS campaigned in favor of the amendment and says that it is a human right’s issue. Bush, who is African-American, says that for too long black women in Mississippi have relied upon abortions as a form of birth control.

“The culture of death that we have created needs to be stopped now…As a community we need to support a woman in crises rather than having her turn on her own child.”

Dr. Bush sits on the advisory board for ‘Yes on 26’, an official offshoot organization for Personhood USA in Mississippi, says that if abortion were not legal, contraception and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies would be taken more seriously. She indicated that if the personhood initiative did not pass in Mississippi, a state where abortion laws are so restrictive that legal abortions can only be obtained at one clinic, the outcome would be dire for American culture.

“If the law doesn’t pass we will continue to have the senseless killing of babies…. If we can kill the least, our children and grand children, without considering the fact that they are human…I shudder to think what will happen to us.”

On the other side of the discussion, Mississippians for Healthy Families says that the personhood debate is about more than abortion; they say that if the amendment had passed the result would have been the unnecessary intrusion of the government into citizen’s lives.

“We’ve really made it clear that you can be pro life and Christian and vote no on this initiative. At the end of the day it’s not about abortion it’s about government control,” said Valencia Robinson a spokesperson for the organization.

Robinson says that the ambiguity of the amendment could have lead to unforeseen consequences, doctors might have feared prosecution if faced with saving a fetus or a woman who is in the midst of a life threatening pregnancy.

Though the amendment did not pass, Robinson says that Mississippi is still vulnerable to the Personhood movement and similar initiatives in the future. She plans to continue her advocacy.

“They are going to come back and they are going to try it until it passes here… Let’s leave Mississippi alone. We still need to be proactive instead of reactive. Education still has to continue.”