Mississippi is the new testing ground for a nationwide initiative that has failed in other states.
Initiative No. 26, or the “Personhood Amendment,” which aims to change the legal definition of the word “person” in the state constitution, will be on the state election ballot in November.
Personhood USA, which has led similar but unsuccessful movements in Colorado, Alabama and Florida, is a Christian organization that aims to outlaw abortion by defining a person at the moment of fertilization.
The amendment could have dramatic effects on women’s health options and has been blasted by health officials and women’s rights groups nationwide.
Mississippi State University senior political science major and West Point native Shannon Denney hopes to generate support against the initiative at a protest rally on the MSU drill field at 11 a.m. Thursday.
Since the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled on Sept. 8 to allow the initiative on the November ballot, Denney and co-organizer Victoria Jowers have worked on organizing event, which they hope will run smoothly considering the hot-button issue of abortion.
Denney, who is pro-abortion rights and an independent voter, said the protest rally will not include a pro-abortion rights agenda. Instead, organizers want to focus on women’s rights.
“We’re looking at the far-reaching issues this could create,” Denney said. “How this could affect birth control that thins the uterus lining and in vitro fertilization. Not every woman uses birth control as a contraceptive; some use it to regulate hormones. The morning-after pill, which could be used by rape victims would be off the market.
“It’s not so much an abortion issue as it is a women’s issue,” she added. “And it’s not my choice to make these decisions for the rest of the population.”
The vague language of the proposed amendment leaves gray area that would force state legislators to render decisions on specific circumstances involving in vitro fertilization, stem-cell research and options for rape victims.
“All may be touched by this law, but none are directly addressed,” according to the Personhood USA website.
Denney said passing the law would inundate the legal system with unnecessary appeals as it directly conflicts with the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade, which protects a woman’s right to have an abortion.
“This would cost the state millions of dollars it does not have to fight this,” Denney said. “People will fight this. For a state to try and trump the United States is very overreaching.”
Mississippi leads the nation with 64.1 births for every 1,000 teenagers between 15 and 19 years old, according to Mississippi First. Mississippi also leads the nation in teen infection rates for several sexually transmitted diseases.
The Personhood USA movement in Mississippi gained 130,000 signatures and has the backing of many Republicans. The initiative received a round of applause when discussed at a recent Oktibbeha County Republican social.
Denney admits the overwhelming disparity between Republican and Democratic voters in the state will be a hurdle. She hopes Republican women can swing the support against it.
“Honestly, if people can see past the abortion issue, I’m hopeful,” Denney said. “It’s not about one issue; it’s about every issue of women.”