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Do you like the birth control method that’s prescribed by your doctor? Do you know someone who’s had an ectopic pregnancy? Discussing our reproductive health with our doctors and then making decisions that are right for us based on that medical advice is something pretty much every woman in America has done at one time or another. We rely especially on our OB/GYNs as we navigate the variety of medical issues that arise during our reproductive lifetimes.
But if some people in Mississippi get their way, after Tuesday, some of those decisions would be made by the state and some could become criminal acts.
If the voters of Mississippi approve Initiative 26 (also being called the “personhood amendment") on November 8, it would be the first state to alter its constitution to give full legal rights to fertilized human eggs at the moment of conception.
The language of the amendment may seem simple, but the implications for women and their health goes way beyond choosing sides in one of the hottest political debates in America. Initiative 26 asks: “Should the term person be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?”
Proponents of the effort claim that passage of the amendment is merely the next logical step in their efforts to ban abortions to protect unborn children. But the actual consequences of such a constitutional provision could eventually mean that various common forms of birth control, like the IUD, the morning-after pill and, possibly birth control pills, would be viewed as forms of abortion and could be outlawed.
Reasonable people can differ on whether they support a woman’s right to an abortion or under what circumstances they should be allowed. But women still have a constitutionally protected right to have an abortion, even though some state laws and Supreme Court opinions since Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, have restricted the circumstances under which they can occur. If Mississippi passes Initiative 26, not only would all abortions be outlawed in that state, even in the cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother, certain types of birth control could also be outlawed. Procedures related to ectopic pregnancies -- a potentially life-threatening condition where a fertilized egg implants itself in a woman’s fallopian tubes rather than in the uterus -- could be forbidden. And, if taken to its logical conclusion, women could potentially face criminal prosecution if someone deems their miscarriage as suspect.
The Mississippi State Medical Association has gone on the record as opposing the initiative because of the myriad issues it would present for women’s health, including a doctor’s ability to decide what’s in the best medical interests of his or her patient, and whether doctors could be charged with murder or wrongful death by performing certain, regular medical procedures.
Obviously, each one of us can have different views on abortion, the Mississippi initiative, and the current political climate promoting it, as well as similar legislative efforts pending in several other states. But with the potential passage of a state constitutional amendment that is as seemingly extreme as Initiative 26, I can’t help but remember the fictional world of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a novel that explored a future dystopian world where women’s choices about having and raising children were stripped from them and made by the government.
Odds are that even with a U.S. Supreme Court majority that’s not a friend to Roe v. Wade, if the Mississippi amendment is approved by voters, ultimately it would be ruled unconstitutional. But that would still give Mississippi years to pass and enforce laws needed to implement the constitutional amendment that could force hospitals to turn away women who are miscarrying, criminalize certain birth control methods, and suspend fertility treatments.
iVillage contributor Joanne Bamberger writes about the intersection of motherhood and politics at her blog, PunditMom. She is the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, which is on sale now at Amazon.com.