Sides dispute impact of Initiative 26 passage
Less than a week before the generalelection, supporters and opponents of Initiative 26 remain stronglydivided as to its consequences if voters approve the amendment.
On Nov. 8, Mississippi voters will have the opportunity topotentially approve three amendments to the state constitution.
The first of the three, Initiative 26, would offer a definition ofthe word “person” as it appears in the constitution.
Initiative supporters hope to essentially end abortion inMississippi through its passage. Critics claim the bill reaches toofar and could criminalize in vitro fertilization and some forms ofbirth control.
“In 1973, the Supreme Court basically said children in the wombwere not persons,” said Kendall Boutwell, a local supporter of theinitiative. “We’re trying to protect life. None of your rightsmatter if you don’t have life.”
Stan Flint, a consultant with Mississippians for Health Families,described the initiative as having potentially dire results.
“This is not some happy amendment to make a moral statement,” Flintsaid. “It is fatally ambiguous and will create a legalnightmare.”
Mississippians for Healthy Families is a political action committeeformed to oppose Initiative 26.
On the ballot, the initiative will be phrased as a question:”Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human beingfrom the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalentthereof?”
Much of the public campaign against Initiative 26 has focused onwhat critics describe as the negative side effects of theinitiative.
According to these critics, defining developing fetuses as personswill not only end abortion but other procedures such as in vitrofertilization and criminalize some forms of birth control that canpotentially prevent the development of a fertilized embryo.
Further, opponents charge that treating pregnancies in which themother’s life is endangered, such as ectopic pregnancies, couldopen doctors up to criminal charges.
“Doctors will be charged with murder or manslaughter,” Flintsaid.
Flint said the medical community shares his fears and said theMississippi Nurses Association and Mississippi State MedicalAssociation have declined to support the initiative and expressedsimilar concerns about prosecution of medical professionals.
When asked whether he believed law enforcement agencies wouldpursue such charges or adopt such an interpretation of Initiative26, Flint said, “All it takes is one district attorney who needs toget re-elected. You open up the door for any women or mother to beprosecuted.”
Flint also said legal challenges could arise from outside lawenforcement agencies.
“Trial lawyers will be standing outside the doors of every clinic,”he said. “People will standing outside pharmacies to suepharmacists and doctors.”
The website for Yes on 26 denies Flint’s claims. A page on itswebsite states: “Personhood is a constitutional definition thatestablishes a principle. It does not attempt to set policy andprocedure for every situation. Personhood establishes that both themother and baby must be protected.
“Mississippi law dealt effectively with most of the questionsraised by Personhood long before Roe v. Wade told courts to ignorethe baby.”
Boutwell dismissed Flint’s charges as “fear mongering.” He said thepurpose of the initiative is a narrow one.
“I know the intent,” Boutwell said. “Our intent is to save childrenthat are being aborted. The only contraceptive that it will ban, ifit bans that, will be contraception that kills the child after itis conceived.”
Boutwell also pointed to fetal homicide laws in Mississippi, whichallow someone causing the death of a pregnant womb to be chargedwith the murder of the unborn child.
“Why is the child a person then but not at other times?” Boutwellsaid. “That’s something that hasn’t been brought out.”
Flint described the laws Boutwell referred to as much narrower inscope and much more specific than Initiative 26.
“A criminal statue is narrowly defined and applied to the specificinstance of the crime,” Flint said. “That is not changing the billof rights.”
Despite the campaign against Initiative 26, Boutwell remainsoptimistic.
“I feel confident it will pass because I think we’ve got morepro-life people in Mississippi than pro-death,” Boutwell said.