Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Problem with the Personhood Amendment

Photo by Ambro
By Kathryn Arnsberger

In 1920, women in the United States gained the right to vote. It was a monumental step in women’s rights and many thought it could only move forward in the right direction from there. However, on November eighth of this year, Mississippi almost took a big step back.

Initiative 26, also known as the Personhood Amendment, would have defined life as starting at conception. The Mississippi amendment would have made abortion completely illegal even in cases of rape, incest, and health complications. That, however, is not all the amendment would have done. Initiative 26 would have also banned many forms of birth control and hindered in vitro fertilization treatments.

The amendment went beyond abortion and spilled into women’s health care and reproductive rights. It would have banned many forms of birth control, especially morning-after pills (such as Plan B) and intrauterine devices (IUDs) because they can destroy fertilized eggs. Furthermore, some oral contraceptives would also have been banned because they contain the same hormones as these emergency contraceptives but in lower doses.

Ironically, Initiative 26 would have made in vitro fertilization treatments nearly impossible. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a procedure that fertilizes eggs and sperms outside the body and then is planted in the woman’s uterus; it is common among infertile couples. Initiative 26 would have hindered IVF on a grand scale because fertilized eggs not used in the procedure would be thrown away and since the amendment recognizes life at conception, unused eggs would be murder.

Initiative 26 also brought up questions such as: Would doctors who performed IVF lose their professions for disposing of unused fertilized eggs? Would this amendment cause Roe V. Wade to be challenged? Because life starts at conception, would women who had miscarriages be arrested for murder? As shocking as they were, these questions had to be seriously contemplated by voters.

Despite controversy, on November eighth Mississippi voted “no” on Initiative 26 with 58%. For many other concerned groups outside Mississippi, this was a relief. For others, it was a disappointment. The amendment had been rejected.

So why is Initiative 26 still a concern for many people?

Well, for starters, the initiative was too ambiguous. Taking out the abortion aspect of it (which is another debate in itself), the initiative took extreme measures when it came to women’s personal choices in healthcare, whether it was about preventing conception or starting it. The idea of the government determining whether or not a woman could use birth control or IVF is unsettling; such restrictions would be a step back for women’s rights.

Rape and incest victims would be forced by the government into pregnancies created by crimes against them. Women with high risk pregnancies would be forced by the government to risk their lives and possibly die. Women would be forced by the government to bear children who have no chance of surviving outside the womb. Women who can’t bear children except by in vitro fertilization would be forced by the government to continue being childless. Women who want to avoid abortion and use birth control would be forced by the government to limit the methods of effective birth control they can use. Women who miscarry would become the subject of criminal investigations. Ultimately, women would no longer control their reproduction; the government would. The amendment was more about the government’s control over a person’s body than it was about “personhood.”

Just because Initiative 26 was rejected in Mississippi, doesn’t mean that the initiative won’t make another appearance. This was not the first time an anti-abortion amendment this radical has been proposed and it certainly won’t be the last. Similar initiatives are already picked up in Florida, Ohio, and Montana and will be up for vote in 2012. Radical ideas catch on quick simply because they are radical.

Also, how does a proposition so dangerous for women get rejected by only 58%? That would mean 42% of Mississippi voters actually wanted this amendment to be passed. For an initiative so nonsensical to only be rejected by a little more than half is frightening—that would mean 42% of Mississippi voters want the government involved in a citizen’s decisions about reproduction. Or it would mean that this proposition went without being properly introduced to the public before being voted on.

My goal is not to argue over abortion or whether or not life starts at conception, but rather the other things hidden in radical anti-abortion amendments. The energy behind Initiative 26 is not going to go away, and it is not going to just be about only abortion. It’s going to be more and more infringing on women’s rights over their own bodies and it’s going to pass through many more states before it dissipates. It might just make it through South Carolina at one point and when it does, I want people to be aware of the side complications most voters won’t know to look for.


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