Over 7 Billion People: The Personhood Amendment in Mississppi

The world population recently hit 7 billion. Funny story: when I was in Swaziland, King Mswati III gave a speech at the UN Population Fund Ceremony and lauded on how great it was that we were developing at such a phenomenal speed, and how he couldn't wait until we reached 10 billion to celebrate again.
...Uhhh, no. You could see the UN people become parched and turn green. 7 billion. That's a lot of people. The Economist is seeking to reassure the pessimists among us that in fact, our population growth is on the decline. And while the magazine wants to tell us to start taxing carbon emissions in the top 7% of polluters (China, Europe, North America), this is unlikely to happen. What would help, however, is an increased support to family planning. And while this would serve well in sub-Saharan Africa and much of India, it would also benefit us right here, in North America. I cannot emphasize how lucky you are if you live in Canada. Land of the free, we certainly are. So free, in fact, that we have no legal basis for our abortion rights - only that we have it, its protected and both parties are so afraid of the topic that it never really comes up in a serious, legislative way. While I think that abortion should be completely legal, it would be interesting and perhaps even necessary to have a constitutional debate on the topic, no? As long as my rights are not trampled on that is... And I'll keep my access to birth control too. Some clinics provide free monthly packs, other discounted rates, and thank you for the Plan B morning after pill, condoms do break, mistakes do happen, and bearing a child should be a choice not a punishment for my actions. Slip passed the border to the United States and it's a whole different story. State by State are enacting increasingly restrictive laws cutting funding towards family planning facilities, abortions and birth control. While you were sleeping, your rights were being usurped. At least they were if you live in Mississippi, Ohio, Florida, or a dozen other states in which a new proposed Personhood Amendment would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person - turning abortion and some forms of birth control into murder. Not just a ban on abortion, the Personhood Amendment would disallow the procedure for women who have been raped, who are victims of incest, or who have life-threatening conditions that could be saved by having the procedure. It bans the morning after pill, IUD's and limits contraceptives (because some of these don't allow a fertilized egg to stick to the uterine wall). So far, states have tried, successfully, to hamper access to abortions - we've seen this with the constant financial attacks on Planned Parenthood, or restricting the procedures to only 20 weeks, requiring women to view ultrasounds of the fetus (how inhumane is that?!!), placing regulations on clinics or banning insurance coverage for the procedure. Although the Personhood Amendment has been shot down with large margins in Colorado, only one clinic performs abortions in Mississippi where the topic is highly debated and widely resisted, and so had gained a bigger following in the state. Ironically, Mississippi also has the highest poverty rate in the country, and plans on increasing taxes - which will gravely affect the care of these children mothers can't afford to have (an even heavier financial burden if the child is disabled). Currently 30% of children in Mississippi live below the poverty line, compared to the 18% national average (2008). Teen (15-19) pregnancies are also inordinately high: 72 out of every 1000 pregnancies. With a new governor stepping into power - and both candidates saying they would vote for the Personhood Amendment, we have to wonder how mixing criminal law with medical life saving procedures or a woman's rights is a viable option for the wellbeing of a generation and of a State. Would a woman who has taken the morning after pill be charged with murder? Could a woman be charged with murder if she has an abortion out of State? Biologically, many fertilized eggs do not go on to implant themselves successfully in the uterus. Fertilization in and of itself is a process along a continuum - some never go on to be fully viable. What happens to ectopic pregnancies (where the egg implants outside of the womb and are life threatening)? Or in-vitro fertility treatments? Will we be asking legislators to decide what is best for women in these medical situations, instead of a doctor? And what if a woman has a stillbirth or a miscarriage? Will this be manslaughter? Will her eating habits, lifestyle and living conditions be placed under scrutiny and could she then be charged? Whatever the moral, religious or other views of each individual, on November 8th (thats tomorrow!) when Mississippi will have to vote on the Personhood Amendment to the State Constitution, they should at least be voting on a clear and cohesive document. Unfortunately, since so much of the abortion debate falls on moral and religious war grounds, this Personhood Amendment is tarnished, legally inept and a mess of variable definitions that aren't upheld on medical fact. As with most things concerning women's bodies, none of that matters when the womb is involved. And if you were wondering how all this fits into the 'good girls have rights, bad girls don't' debate, go here. Because, of course it does: sex outside of marriage is punished. Sexual relations are punished. Pleasure is punished. Sex for procreation is the only sex that is allowed. (Clay Naff makes a great (but realistic) spoof on this. For more, read The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood.) Results from the vote in Mississippi on the "Personhood Amendment" will be coming in tonight.  I know I'll be watching - you should, too. Currently a full time writer and women’s rights consultant, Clara has a BA in Political Science from Laval University and a Masters in International Law from Kent in Brussels. She has worked for several organizations on human rights and gender issues, including UNICEF, HPCR International and the European Parliament. She recently spent 7 months in Swaziland working on sexual violence and rape laws for SWAGAA and continuing her writing as communications officer for the Breast Cancer Network. She tweets at @ClaraVaz1. Photo credit: Isis via the Creative Commons License.

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