The sneaky way that despotic Mississippi Republicans are eyeing a ban on contraceptives: report

The sneaky way that despotic Mississippi Republicans are eyeing a ban on contraceptives: report
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) (screengrab).
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The Republican Party's crusade against abortion rights may be approaching its zenith with this summer's anticipated reversal of Roe versus Wade by the United State Supreme Court's right-wing majority. But in Mississippi, another sinister battle to subjugate women and girls to the whims of men has been brewing for at least the last decade.

Reporter Ashton Pittman revealed in the Mississippi Free Press on Monday that the GOP's staunchest forced birth advocates may be concocting an underhanded scheme to strip away access to contraception from vulnerable Magnolia State residents.

Back in 2011, when the Democratic Party controlled the Mississippi State House of Representatives, future Speaker Philip Gunn (R-56th District) along with 15 fellow Republicans (one of whom is former State Representative and current United States Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith) and four Democrats endorsed Initiative 26, or the Personhood Amendment, which legally defined life as "beginning at fertilization or 'the functional equivalent thereof.'"

In other words, a "person" is created at the moment in which a sperm cell enters an egg.

That language, Pittman noted, would have automatically made abortions illegal, including in cases of rape or incest, “from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof."

Additionally, Pittman pointed out, Initiative 26 "would have also banned several types of contraception, including IUDs and Plan B and made in-vitro fertilization practically impossible."

The push to grant zygotes individual legal status was backed by the most extreme factions within the Southern anti-choice caucus. And they employed tricky syntax to obscure their broader efforts to deny pregnant people the power to execute choices over their own bodies.

"The Personhood Amendment’s supporters said they did not take a position on birth-control methods 'which are contraceptive rather than abortive in their actions,' but were 'opposed to those birth control methods which act as abortifacients,' including 'forms of the pill which act to prevent implantation of the newly formed human into the lining of the womb; forms of the IUD, which can act the same; and prostaglandin suppository drugs, which act to cause delivery of whatever size baby the uterus contains," Pittman ascertained, based on the Yes On 26 website's text.

Characterizing what followed as outside of the mainstream would be a colossal understatement.

The homepage "described that the morning-after pill acts as a 'human pesticide' and explained that the Personhood Amendment included no rape or incest exceptions because 'abortions for rape victims does not solve a woman’s problems, it only creates more,'" Pittman continued. "While Yes On 26 claimed the amendment would not ban abortions in cases where they are necessary to save a pregnant person’s life, the amendment did not specify any exceptions, including to save a woman’s life."

Mississippi voters overwhelmingly rejected the ballot measure in November of 2011.

Fast-forwarding to today, with the Supreme Court's precedent-shattering ruling in Thomas E. Dobbs, State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health versus Jackson Women’s Health Organization lurking in the wings, fears are resurfacing that lawmakers like Gunn are itching to resuscitate Initiative 26.

That case was filed on December 1st, 2020, as a constitutional challenge to Mississippi's controversial and draconian 15-week abortion ban.

On Sunday, May 8th's edition of CNN's Meet the Press, Republican Governor Tate Reeves told host Jake Tapper that prohibiting access to birth control “is not what we are focused on at this time" no matter what the Supreme Court ultimately decides.

The next day, Gunn issued a parallel proclamation on Twitter.

"Reeves’ recent interviews caused confusion on the future of contraceptives in MS after a ruling on Dobbs," he tweeted. "The scaremongering on the left intended to make pro-life states look extreme won’t work. Rest assured, the Mississippi House of Representatives won't move legislation banning contraceptives."

Reproductive rights activists, however, are unconvinced, because the issue is moot if fetal personhood becomes legally enshrined.

“They wouldn’t need to do this whole tap-dancing around answering questions about contraception if they weren’t in line with fetal personhood," Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund co-founder and Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama Executive Director Laurie Bertram Roberts said in an interview with Pittman. “They’re telling on themselves because if you don’t believe in this very warped view of fetal personhood from the moment the egg is fertilized, then you wouldn’t be worried about IUDs or Plan B or IVF at all."

Roberts believes that fringe conservatives such as Gunn have crafted a sneaky face-saving workaround grounded in the objectives of Initiative 26. In fact, its digital archive still maintains that "abortion will be outlawed in our state; cloning and other forms of medical cannibalism will be effectively stopped; and a challenge will be set up to Roe v Wade."

To Roberts, that is an explicit warning.

“You always have to listen to what they say and what they don’t say,” she said. “He didn’t say we won’t move to do fetal personhood. He didn’t say we won’t put forth any bills that would endanger contraception. He said we would not be doing any bills targeting contraception, right? We have a lot of attorneys in our Legislature and they are very smart at wordsmithing. Oh, you wouldn’t? Ok. Well, you haven’t. But it doesn’t mean y’all won’t.”

Roberts added that she wants Gunn and his confederates to make a more dependable pledge.

“Because they would say, ‘This is a bill defining life.’ … The same way they’ve done with abortion over and over again: ‘This isn’t about women and their bodies, this is about babies,'" she said to Pittman while elaborating on numerous frightening hypotheticals.

“If the fetus you’re carrying is equal to you, your doctors can go, ‘Oh, well, the fetus needs this,’ and force you to have surgery. They can force you not to have a home birth because they say it’s too risky. If your home birth goes wrong, who says you won’t be charged with murder because of ‘child endangerment’?” Roberts posited.

“For people who don’t even feel like they are attached to the abortion issue, it will impact everything that has to do with pregnancy. If you’re pregnant and find out you have cancer, are you going to be able to get treatment or not? Who gets to decide? You, a judge or the doctor? …That’s what fetal personhood means," she continued. "Your body is no longer your own while you are pregnant. You are no longer an autonomous being.”

Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have drafted a federal fraternal twin of Mississippi's failed Personhood Amendment, which is equally as medieval as its predecessor.

Pittman provided the who and what behind the proposal, which has not garnered sufficient attention in the national media:

Three U.S. House Representatives from Mississippi are among 150 Republicans who are currently sponsoring H.R. 1011, The Life At Conception Act, a piece of legislation similar to Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment. It would grant 14th Amendment protections 'for the right to life of each born and preborn human person' nationwide and define 'human person' as 'each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.'
The 150 Republicans who support the bill make up 72% of the House GOP caucus. The legislation currently has no path forward in the Democratic-led House, but that could change if voters give Republicans the majority in November’s congressional elections. The Mississippi sponsors are: Reps. Trent Kelly, Michael Guest and Steven Palazzo.
A Senate version of the Life At Conception Act authored by Sen. Rand Paul has 18 sponsors, or more than half the Senate’s GOP membership, including U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Democrats currently control the U.S. Senate, which is split 50-50 between the two parties, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

And as Republicans in dozens of states promulgate similar restrictions, Pittman foresees a bleak outcome if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Dobbs.

"If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Mississippi would immediately ban almost all abortions at any point due to a 2007 trigger law, passed under a Democratic-led House and Senate, that would take effect, with exceptions only to save the life of the pregnant person and in some cases of rape if the victim reported the assault to police and sought an abortion early in the pregnancy," he concluded. "Earlier this month, though, Mississippi Sen. Joey Fillingane, a Sumrall Republican who authored the 2007 law, said he would like the Legislature to repeal all rape exceptions."

Pittman's full report is available here.

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