A quest to make sense of it all. Or a sense to make a quest of it all.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The 26 issue.

A lot of my most surreal moments happen in the Kroger on Hwy 72, and I kinda blame the strangeness on that particular branch's insistence on playing the Embarassingly Likable Tunes of the 80's mix at such a noticeably loud volume. Maybe there's something about striding through the fluorescent-lit aisles, cantaloupes and paper towels balanced impudently in your arms, to the rising crescendo of Toto's "Africa" that brings out the misguided confidence inside. Folks get to thinking their opinions are wanted. I still bristle at the recent memory of a morbidly obese woman who had the tardacity to tell me that the cigarettes I was buying would kill me. I glanced at the sugary neon carnival of her cart and said nothing back, reasoning she'd probably be dead sooner than me anyway. I've had people comment on my reading material (I'll read an Us Weekly now and then. What of it?), vent their frustrations about food stamp abuse while the person in front checks out with an EBT card, and offer me some of their unpaid-for grapes to munch on while we wait. Hungry strangers can be weird.

I was standing in line to not buy cigarettes a few days ago, staring into space and genuinely enjoying the Yacht Rock flowing smoothly, so smoothly, into my ears (Rich Girl, by the incomparable Hall and Oates). I was aware of a conversation going on behind me, but had no idea what was being said. Don't you knoooow, don't you know, that it's wrong...to take what he's giving you, so far go-
"Miss? Would you like a flyer?" I was rudely pulled away from my revery. There was a trim, fiftyish woman trying to hand me something. I looked down and recoiled a bit. A flyer shouting "Yes on 26!" was being offered to me. I smiled politely and shook my head no. She blinked and said, "Amendment 26 is Mississippi's chance to be first at outlawing abortion." I just smiled again and said, as simply as possible, "I don't support 26." She then shuffled through the stack of angry-looking, multicolored papers in her arms and handed me a cute FAQ. She said, "You may want to have a look at some facts. It might change your mind about killing babies." Whoa.
"Ma'am. I've never killed a baby. I'm not going to kill a baby. I wouldn't even have a problem with 26 if it were just about abortion, but it's not. It's about birth control too. The only thing that needs to change about birth control is that it needs to be more available to anyone who wants it."
She giddily pointed at the FAQ. "It says right there that birth control won't change."

"I've read it. It says that it won't outlaw most forms of hormonal birth control. Which forms, exactly? The wording's unclear, and it calls for declaring personhood at fertilization, not conception. I know how birth control works, so I can't get behind that."

She rolled her eyes and walked away, shaking her head at my unreachableness. I moved up and purchased my items, while the clerk gave me the stankeye. Just to add to the sudden bad vibe, The Doobie Brothers came on. Ugh. "What a Fool Believes" has got to be one of the worst songs ever written.

This issue has been weighing heavily on me. My own feelings about reproductive rights have gotten increasingly more conservative as technology advances and shows me pictures and studies that make it impossible for me to say a 12 or 14-week fetus is not a baby (especially when it's heart has been beating since week 5), but just the makings of one. We keep seeing, earlier and earlier, that that's not the case. Admitting this to myself (and others) has been a very difficult process that's been several months in the making. So yeah. I'm undergoing a lot of changes where my feelings on abortion (and when abortion may still be acceptable) are concerned.

But Amendment 26 ain't just about abortion.

Straight from Mississippi's Secretary of State website : "Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof."

Now, I don't expect everyone in Mississippi to be an expert on reproduction and conception. But when we're putting these items on a ballot, it's pretty important to at least attempt to familiarize yourself with what the hell you're voting on. Note that this ballot language uses "fertilization." Not "conception." For those who didn't pay attention in eighth grade, or for whom eighth was a really long time ago :

Fertilization = sperm and egg get together and decide to hang

Conception= fertilized egg attaches to uterine lining= lady knocked up

So, we're not talking about conception. We're not talking about terminating a pregnancy. When we use the word "fertilization," in this context, we are saying that as soon as sperm and egg meet, the fertilized egg is a human being and needs to be protected by the law. Ok. Well, the difference is a matter of hours or maybe a couple of days, right? So what's the big deal? It's almost the same thing as conception.

Well, the big deal is in understanding how hormonal birth control works. Primarily, it prevents ovulation. In a nutshell, every month, an egg manages to get past the gates and run down the hallway, hoping to meet a new (male) friend: sperm. No ovulation means no pregnancy. But sometimes there's a fluke, and an egg goes rogue anyway, reminding us of Jurassic Park's Dr. Ian Malcom warning us that "life finds a way." But while the birth control has been allegedly preventing ovulation, it's also been thinning the lining on the uterine wall as a failsafe. If an egg happens to sneak out and get itself fertilized, it still has to attach to something before anything can happen. If it cannot attach to the lining, it simply gets flushed out with the rest of the riffraff. If it manages to latch on, that's conception. That's a pregnancy.
So an amendment that specifies every human from the moment of fertilization as a person...that's gonna suck. If we determine personhood as beginning at fertilization, that calls birth control into question.

Are you feeling me, Mississippi? Even the most adamantly pro-life types have got to see how that's problematic, and how this initiative, pushed by an organization that clearly says it does not advocate birth control, is deliberately vague. And even the most adamantly pro-life types have got to see how birth control, by preventing unwanted pregnancy, prevents abortion.

Guys...use your heads. If you want to make abortion illegal, push for an initiative that proposes that and only that. Don't support something that's insulting your intelligence by assuming you can't read and comprehend what you're tacking your name onto. This isn't about abortion. Seriously.


theogeo said...

I dunno -- I don't think you can appeal to logic when it comes to the radical pro-lifers. These are the same people who by and large have no problem with the state enforcing death on people via capital punishment. It's less about preserving the sanctity of life at all costs and more about making sure that people know fucking has consequences.

The thing is, 26 gives a fertilized egg rights and privileges that it would then take away from actual living, breathing, human woman.

Even with a heartbeat, a fetus is completely dependent on its mother until at least 20-something weeks. Then, were it to exist outside the uterus, it would need the assistance of a lot of machines to even potentially be viable.

So the idea of a fetus being a baby as soon as that heartbeat starts thumping is still pretty sketchy. Sure, it's the kind of baby that can't survive without being completely dependent on another human being's blood and tissues. My right as a living human being is to not have to sacrifice my body so that another can survive. I can choose to do so, but the government cannot make me.

Basic bodily autonomy is the right from which all other rights can build. If your government can decide for you that the fetus inside you has rights that trump your own, what does that make you as a woman? Less than human. A mere vessel, here to breed and get the next generation here safely but who has no rights of her own, apparently. And maybe some people are OK with that, morally. Maybe some people believe that's just woman's unfortunate -- but blessed! -- station in life, to be the childbearing vessel. But legally? It's horse shit and it's wrong and I will fight for legal and safe abortion access 'til the day I gasp my last bitter breath. Because pregnancy should not be a punishment and should not be compulsory. Pregnancy should be something wanted and cherished.

These 26 people give no fuck about your ability to legally and safely access the birth control of your choice. As far as they are concerned, the only birth control you need is the one they supply: Their control over the circumstances in which you will be forced to give birth because of your mistakes or the mercurial whims of the Universe.

sarah saint said...

"It's less about preserving the sanctity of life at all costs and more about making sure that people know fucking has consequences."

That relates to one of the bigger beefs I have with rabid lifers. IMHO, the only not-awful thing about this crock of legislative bullshit is that Personhood USA does not give the tired "it's ok for incest or rape" leniency. I think that particular leniency is the worst possible stance someone can take. If you really believe every fetus is sacred and deserving of rights, a fetus conceived of nasty circumstances should not be of any less value than one conceived by people who were happy to be screwing. I don't respect P-USA at all, but at least they're consistent. That's all I can say for them.

As far as an as-yet inviable human having the same rights as a grown woman, that's where I get really uneasy. I have a lot of questions, and I haven't been able to nail down a pinpoint moment in development between "worth less than the mother" and "worth the same as the mother."

"Because pregnancy should not be a punishment and should not be compulsory. Pregnancy should be something wanted and cherished."

Agreed. Ideally, people wouldn't bump uglies until they're in a committed and trusting enough relationship to support each other in the event that a pregnancy occurs. Super ideally, they wouldn't be too shaken by a surprise pregnancy because they would already be stable enough to roll with it, and would have accepted the reality that sometimes babies are a consequence of sex. It's not like that's news to anyone. So in this fantasy world, abortion wouldn't be an issue because people would simply stick to other sex acts and leave alone the one that results in being responsible for another person. I believe that'll happen the same way I believe the Kardashians should be on the news. It's not an ideal world.

I think I should stress here that I'm not flipping to the lifer side as of right now. I'm re-evaulating, because I know I'm not as "any abortion, any time, for anyone" as I used to be. I also know that however I feel about it, I haven't yet encountered any evidence strong enough for me to feel that it's my place to tell other people what to do, at least before a point of viability that hasn't been established yet.

When I say that I can't support 26 because it specifies fertilization rather than conception, I don't mean that I would support it if it said conception. I mean I can't support anything that's so deliberately miselading. P-USA's terrifying agenda is gaining momentum because of the ambiguous phrasing, and I've talked with literally dozens of people who were initially for it because they thought it was just about abortion. When I say that if Mississippians want to shut down abortion then they should wait for an initiative that's just about abortion, I don't mean that I'm waiting for that initiative myself. No one has any less right to having a say than I do, and if they really want to vote pro-life, that's their prerogative. But they should wait for a clearer initiative that actually describes what they want instead of latching onto one that's counterproductive to the goal.