Say ‘NO’ to Initiatives 26 and 27

On Nov. 8, Mississippians will get the opportunity to vote down two harmful and destructive ballot initiatives: one written by people who don’t understand how the human body works, and one written by people who don’t understand how democracy works. The Mississippi human rights community, including the Mississippi NAACP, has called on all of us to vote “No” on both Initiative 26 (the Mississippi Personhood Amendment) and Initiative 27 (the Mississippi Voter ID Amendment). I’d like a minute of your time to explain why I think we should do that.

Initiative 26, the Personhood Amendment, would change the Mississippi State Constitution to say that every fertilized egg is a human person. For a lot of people, this is about abortion. As a matter of law, it isn’t. Most fertilized eggs are not implanted in the uterus, so the wording of this law would state that every fertile woman who has unprotected sex with a man is potentially committing manslaughter. Because two-thirds of fertilized eggs are rejected by the uterus, every woman with a child would be guilty of at least two homicides, no matter what else she did. And because many forms of birth control (including the rhythm method) work by increasing the odds that the uterus will reject a fertilized egg, this means that most forms of birth control would count as murder. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) would be banned.

Pregnant women with cancer would be forced to let themselves die rather than undergoing chemotherapy, because chemo can be harmful to a developing embryo. Women whose lives are at risk, with life-threatening pregnancies and terminally deformed fetuses, would be forced to carry those pregnancies to “term” anyway – killing themselves and their would-be offspring – or risk criminal prosecution. Women and girls who have been raped would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term – even if they’re 11 years old, and even if the rapist is a family member. Miscarriages, already tragic, would be investigated as unsolved homicides. Hospitals would be forced to hire “forensic vagina inspectors,” as they do in El Salvador, to make sure that no miscarriages were the woman’s fault.

Do the people who wrote Initiative 26 want all of this to happen? Maybe not. Maybe they think federal courts will strike down the initiative, or restrict its enforcement, before it becomes law. But they’re taking a huge gamble with women’s lives, and there’s a special place in Hell for politicians who are willing to put people’s lives at risk just because they think it will make them popular with some of their constituents. There is no excuse for voting for Initiative 26. None. If Mississippi politicians want to pass an amendment that bans abortion, they have the power to do that. They don’t have to criminalize normal pregnancies, too.

Initiative 27 potentially challenges the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by requiring voters to bring photo ID to the polls. The reason for this initiative is pretty clear: Mississippi has the highest per-capita black population of any state (37 percent); Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008 brought the highest black turnout in Mississippi state history; and most of the people who would be turned away from voting under this initiative are black.

Think about it: if you don’t drive, you probably don’t have a photo ID. Getting non-driver’s-license photo ID potentially involves spending a day at the Department of Motor Vehicles – and as somebody who doesn’t drive (due to disabilities), I’ve done that. It isn’t fun, and it isn’t something most people are likely to go to the trouble of doing just for the privilege of voting.

Just like poll taxes made voting more unappealing for people who don’t have money in their pockets, photo ID requirements make voting more unappealing for people who don’t have cars. Most people in Mississippi who don’t have cars are black and, if they voted in 2008, voted for Barack Obama – and it’s no coincidence that the main supporters of Initiative 27 are white conservatives, or that the main opponents are black Democrats. And while Initiative 27 doesn’t present the immediate life-and-death issues that Initiative 26 does, the long-term impact of low-income voter disenfranchisement on public education, health care, and other basic services could also threaten many Mississippians’ lives and futures.

I can’t stress this enough: we need to vote against Initiatives 26 and 27 Tuesday, Nov. 8. This is not optional. These are harmful initiatives and don’t belong on the ballot. As a Mississippian, I am embarrassed and ashamed that women and the poor are being targeted at the ballot box. We can do better, and we need to send a clear message, as voters, that we will do better.

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