ABBY GRACE: Initiative 26: Why You Should be Scared

By Abby Grace

Editor’s note: Abby Grace is a Tupelo High School senior and staff writer for the Hi-Times school newspaper. This article was submitted for that paper, but its publication was not permitted by the school principal.


Recently, a group called Personhood USA has been making headlines all over nation with their initiative in the state of Mississippi. In an attempt to wiggle their way around Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court Case legalizing abortion, Personhood USA created a ballot initiative stating, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” Mississippi voters will vote on whether or not to pass the initiative on November 8.
So what exactly is the big fuss about the Personhood Initiative? At first glance, it seems to be a cut and dry pro-life vs. pro-choice initiative. The proponents of the Personhood Amendment claim that its purpose is to make abortion illegal by defining an embryo as a “person.” If this initiative passes, and an abortion were to happen, both the mother and the doctor could be tried for murder.
Wow. Let’s just think about that for a moment. What about instances of rape, incest, or ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy in which the baby forms outside of the womb)? Too bad. If you don’t have the baby, then you are a murderer. What about when the mother’s life is in danger due to a medical complication? Well, unfortunately, the doctor can not legally do anything to save her. Now, a woman has lost her life.
The reason so many pro-life obstetricians and gynecologists have spoken out against this bill is very simple – it is foolish to completely outlaw something that is medically necessary in many cases. Recently, Mississippi Medical Association President Dr. Tom Joiner released a letter to physicians outlining the potential dangers this initiative could pose to doctors in the state of Mississippi.
He wrote, “Even when acting in the best interest of both the mother and unborn, the medical judgment of well-intentioned physicians could be brought into question.”
Many physicians have also been alarmed about the amount of government involvement in a doctor/patient relationship. According to Dr. Paul Seago, a gynecologic oncologist practicing in Jackson, the initiative could restrict the treatment for women facing certain cancers. It also could have negative repercussions for women with life-threatening pregnancies and could change the practice of in vitro fertilization in Mississippi.
“Initiative 26 is an unprecedented level of government intrusion into the relationship between a doctor and his or her patient,” Seago said.
Approving this initiative puts our medical professionals at risk. In a state where the obesity rate is skyrocketing, life-expectancy is the lowest in the nation, and poverty has hit an all-time high, the last thing we need to do is chase doctors away. Believe it or not, they are very qualified to make medical decisions, and do not need the common person interfering and telling them who is a person, and who isn’t. I’m sure their professors taught them that in medical school.
However, the Personhood Amendment debate extends beyond abortion. In fact, according to Mississippians for Healthy Families, one of the largest threats of the Personhood Amendment is the restriction of some reproductive treatments.
Atlee Parks Breland, who was able to have children thanks to fertility treatments, recently wrote an article about how Initiative 26 has a very real potential to outlaw in-vitro fertilization. IVF, unfortunately, only has a 25-30 percent success rate. This means that around 75 percent of embryos harvested are never implanted or are implanted unsuccessfully. Under Initiative 26, this embryo would be considered a person, and the doctor and mother could theoretically be charged with murder. Despite the fact that IVF allows many barren parents to give birth to beautiful children, under Initiative 26, it would suffer. To me, and many others, this seems extremely illogical and counter-productive to the Personhood’s goals.
Breland does acknowledge the fact that Personhood USA claims that fertility treatments will not be affected by the new law. However, she raises an interesting point when examining the effectiveness of their “promises.”
She states, “Personally, I find the logical and scientific contradictions impossible to resolve. Nor has the pro-personhood campaign offered any better rationale than ‘IVF won’t be restricted, because we said so.’ Unfortunately, political ads don’t carry any legal weight at all. Given that a large wing of the pro-life force is ideologically opposed to infertility treatment, I find myself unwilling to simply take their word for it.”
At the end of the day, legal experts have decided that what Initiative 26 would or wouldn’t do would be at the discretion of the judicial branch. It would be up to them to interpret what exactly this law means – not Personhood USA.
Despite the very real horror of these beasts, another dragon waits in the corner. What might the name of this dragon be? Restricted access to birth control. That’s right. Initiative 26 makes it very likely that some extremely common forms of birth control will be outlawed. I must say to my fellow Mississippians that this might be the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. Of course, we need more teenagers with little babies. Of course, we should support unplanned children on our Medicaid/Medicare program for 18 years instead of providing their parents with a $15 package of birth control pills.
Now, many might ask, how in the world could Initiative 26 accomplish this? As I’ve already stated, Initiative 26 defines the beginning of personhood at the moment of conception. What many don’t know is that most birth control pills not only prevent ovulation, but thin the wall of the uterus. This makes it impossible for an egg to implant if it does happen to release from the ovary. Therefore, a fertilized egg/”person” would be prevented from implanting in the womb and growing up to be an actual person.
Bam. Birth control is outlawed. The pill, introduced in the 1950s, and empowering women ever since then, is now not available for use. Also, IUDs and the morning-after-pill would be a thing of the past if this initiative succeeds. The United States Department of Health just released a study saying that it would be most cost-effective for insurance to completely cover birth-control and yearly check-ups for women. Why? It keeps women safe and gives them the ability to make choices about their body with confidence.

Today, I am not trying to say that the Pro-Life cause is wrong. I am trying to say that passing Initiative 26 would limit women’s and families’ rights an extraordinary amount. So, if you are old enough to vote, or if you happen to discuss this with your parents, please let them know that this debate is much more complicated than pro-life/pro-choice. This debate extends to the rights of women to use birth control that has been available for decades, and families’ rights to go to a fertility treatment center and have a baby that they will love and take care of. Furthermore, no one but the judicial system has the right to dictate what Initiative 26 will or will not do. So, before making a decision, please look at the whole picture. Just because you are pro-life does not mean you should be in support of Initiative 26.