As Yale students, we may feel far removed from the heated debate that is gripping Mississippi. While many of us may support reproductive rights — from free birth control to abortion — in theory, merely acknowledging this position in casual conversation does little to guarantee that women continue to have access to these rights.
Today, Mississippians will vote on the Mississippi Personhood Amendment, also called Initiative 26, a proposed amendment to the state constitution which will define personhood as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” What happens in Mississippi could transform women’s reproductive health as we know it.
So, what exactly does this mean? The ramifications of this amendment are ambiguous, a result of the inexact and unscientific language. The moment of fertilization is difficult to pinpoint. As many as 50 percent of fertilized eggs naturally fail to implant into the lining of the uterus. Imposing the amendment’s definition would definitely mean the end of safe, legal abortion in Mississippi under any circumstances — including in cases of rape or danger to the mother’s life or health.
However, the extreme consequences of the Personhood Amendment go far beyond abortion. Many birth control methods, including the birth control pill and the intrauterine device (IUD), function primarily by preventing ovulation. However, they also alter the lining of the uterus, so a fertilized egg would not be able to implant in the unlikely case that ovulation occurred anyway.
Under the definition of personhood proposed in the amendment, such forms of birth control would qualify as murder. Thus, if the amendment is passed, women in Mississippi could lose access to one of the most effective means of controlling their reproduction.
Even more alarming is what could happen in the U.S. if this amendment passes: Many other states may follow suit. In fact, at least seven state legislatures have considered personhood amendments.
Even if our lives may seem confined within the Yale bubble, if the national political climate continues to turn against reproductive rights, many Yale students may face hardship in accessing the reproductive health services we need in our home states. We may not think that this issue affects us right now, but we will be in the real world soon enough, facing these issues.
Though many students on this campus and, indeed, Americans, disagree on abortion, the vast majority realize that access to birth control is a necessary, basic human right. The goal of many reproductive health organizations is for all people to have adequate access to and knowledge of birth control so they can avoid unintended pregnancy and thus abortion. If birth control becomes illegal, we will face a major public health crisis.
If anyone should be aware of this, it should be Mississippi legislators: Of the 50 states, Mississippi has the highest maternal and infant mortality and morbidity rates. Access to hormonal birth control can help women decide if and when they have children, reducing the number of high-risk pregnancies that lead to premature births, low birth weight and other conditions that severely harm mothers and children.
This amendment is not simply an attack on abortion access; it is an attack on women’s fundamental right to control their own bodies. It is an attack on our power and right as human beings to choose the contraceptive methods that are right for us. Passing Initiative 26 would lead to more unwanted pregnancies, more stigma around reproductive health and less power for women and their families to make basic choices about their fertility.
As a community that values human rights and a nation that prizes freedom, we cannot afford to just talk about this issue. Instead, we should write letters to state legislators, call voters, sign petitions and make our voices heard in a public forum. If we simply talk about supporting reproductive rights but do not do take an active role in the reproductive justice movement, we risk losing these same rights.
Micha’le Simmons is a senior in Timothy Dwight College and a Planned Parenthood Campus Action Intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.