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Mississippi Rejects Bill to Grant Pre-Embryonic “Personhood,” Outlaw Fertility Aid, Birth Control

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Voters in Mississippi have overwhelmingly defeated an amendment to establish that a fertilized human egg is a person, despite support for the measure from the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor. If passed, it would have made Mississippi the first state to grant constitutional rights to embryo from the moment of conception. We speak with Diane Derzis, owner of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. She notes supporters had hoped to use the Mississippi measure to mount a legal attack on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the right to abortion. “If you make a fertilized egg a person, not only have you banned abortion immediately, you have banned most forms of birth control, as they work by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. That’s very clear. There’s no two ways about that,” Derzis says. Efforts are underway in at least six states, and at the federal level, to adopt similar laws. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we’ll be talking about the sexual harassment charges against the Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, but right now we’re going to Mississippi. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now!, with Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh. Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yesterday, voters in Mississippi defeated an amendment that would establish that a fertilized human egg is a person. The so-called “personhood” initiative was rejected by more than 55 percent of voters, falling far short of the threshold needed for it to be enacted.

Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor in the state had been in favor of Amendment 26, which would have conferred rights on an embryo from the moment of conception. Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Bryant, who is currently the lieutenant governor of Mississippi, is also a co-chairman of “Vote Yes on 26.”

LT. GOV. PHIL BRYANT: The Founding Fathers said every American has the opportunity for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. On November the 8th, we’re going to give that to every child in America, beginning in Mississippi. We’ll see you at the polls.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: If passed, the measure would have made Mississippi the first state ever to grant constitutional rights to an embryo. Supporters of the Mississippi measure had hoped to use it to mount a legal attack on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the right to abortion.

AMY GOODMAN: The consequences of such an amendment would have been unclear. Many inferred it could make infertility treatments and birth control illegal, and would all but certainly equate abortion with homicide. An area of particular concern for opponents is that the amendment does not even provide exception for victims of rape or incest who wish to terminate their pregnancy

For more, we’re going to Diane Derzis. She runs Mississippi’s only women’s health clinic that provides abortion. It’s called Jackson Women’s Health Organization. But she’s speaking to us from Alabama.

Diane Derzis, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about this “personhood” amendment. How did it get started, and the significance of its defeat, with the leading Republicans and Democrats supporting this amendment?

DIANE DERZIS: It’s absolutely amazing. And to echo John, this is another example of grassroots efforts of people standing up and saying, “Absolutely not.” Actually, it was “Hell no, we’re not going back.” This was a Personhood USA amendment, which is a group outside of these states that are doing this throughout the country. There have been 18 such bills in 2011. And in fact, we already have one pre-filed here in Alabama.

You know, these people like to negate the truth—in fact, they lie. If you make a fertilized egg a person, not only have you banned abortion immediately, you have banned most forms of birth control, as they work by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. You know, that’s very clear. There’s no two ways about that. The IUD works by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. In vitro fertilization, you’re talking about a fertilized egg. These are people. These people are saying eggs are people with the same rights and privileges that you and I have. It’s absolutely insane. But it’s dangerous because of the other—the consequences that people don’t think about. A woman that’s pregnant, she’s drinking, she’s smoking; is she going to be prosecuted? I mean, that is happening now in further stages of pregnancy. These people mean to get women at any stage, and that’s the danger of this kind of legislation.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Diane, were you at all surprised by the fact that the amendment was defeated, by the election results?

DIANE DERZIS: Actually, I have to tell you, I was, especially by such a large measure. I didn’t think we had enough time. You know, this is only—we’ve only known that we were going to have this on the ballot for the last six to eight weeks. So, Wake Up Mississippi, we formed, and did billboards throughout the state, to begin discourse. You know, when people start talking and recognizing that this goes far more than banning abortion, and that conversation ensues, I think that’s what you saw happening: people starting to talk to one another, understanding what these people were all about, and then they turned out and made their voices heard, loud and clear.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the people who put this on the ballot, and also the fact that the Democrats joined with the Republicans in supporting it, Diane Derzis?

DIANE DERZIS: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who put it on the ballot and what the Democratic position was.

DIANE DERZIS: Well, I’ll tell you what: they’re one and the same there. And I think that, starting today, this grassroots movement has to continue, because we have got to demand accountability from our elected officials. You know, I want to see us talking about real people, people who are walking around, wondering where their next meal is coming from, wondering how they’re going to support their parents, how they’re going to send their children to school. That’s what the people in this country want to worry about. You know, this is absurd we’re talking about fertilized eggs. This is all part and parcel of a red herring, if you will. You know, e don’t want to talk about the concrete issues that people are facing. But hopefully, that’s the surge in this grassroots efforts that you saw what happened yesterday, that people were saying, “Uh-uh, enough’s enough.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could this mean that other anti-abortion laws in Mississippi could be rolled back, do you think?

DIANE DERZIS: I doubt that, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to try. You know, I’m proud to tell you that we have the only abortion clinic there, and I’m proud that we’re able to serve and meet the needs of women in Mississippi. That was part of this, of regardless what happened yesterday, we were prepared to litigate that, to ensure that women have access. But I think it’s—I hope that it’s going to make these people wake up and say, “You know, maybe we need to be doing something else.”

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to an ad in which OB/GYN Dr. Freda Bush urges voters in Mississippi to vote yes on Amendment 26, which would establish that a fertilized human egg is a person. She claims the amendment will ban neither contraception nor in vitro fertilization.

DR. FREDA BUSH: Amendment 26 is a scientific and moral issue, not a political one. Science confirms that a person is a human being at the moment of fertilization. At that moment, we are fully human and fully alive. It’s a moral issue, because it doesn’t matter if you come from a family that’s rich or poor, black or white, or even if your father was a rapist. Amendment 26 will not ban contraception, in vitro fertilization, or criminalize mothers and investigate them when they have miscarriages. It will not criminalize doctors who perform life-saving surgeries. It will not affect access to healthcare. Together, let’s stop dehumanizing the unborn child, but rather, let’s welcome and protect all mothers and babies, without exception.

AMY GOODMAN: That was OB/GYN Dr. Freda Bush in an ad urging voters to vote yes on Amendment 26, establishing “fetal personhood.” It was roundly defeated in Mississippi. We’re speaking with Diane Derzis, who runs the only women’s health clinic that provides abortion in Mississippi. So the people behind this ad, who funded this initiative? Where else do you see it happening, Diane?

DIANE DERZIS: Personhood USA. And, you know, think of the amount of money these people poured into the state of Mississippi, and they’ve done so throughout the country. I mean, wouldn’t you like to see that money spent on children that are in existence? I mean, these people have no compunction against lying. But the people—

AMY GOODMAN: Who are these people?

DIANE DERZIS: These people are the politicians, the right-to-life groups. Interestingly enough, Amy, many right-to-life groups came out against this legislation. In fact, you saw Haley Barbour doing a little waffling before he was pulled back into line. But, I mean, they know clearly—

AMY GOODMAN: Haley Barbour was the governor of Mississippi and was a possible presidential candidate ’til he bowed out for the 2012 presidential race.

DIANE DERZIS: Absolutely, but I think he probably still has some political aspirations. He was pulled back into line rather quickly the day before this measure went up. You know, these people are—and I say “these people.” It’s a group of extremists. They’re right-wing people who have taken over the Republican Party. And in the South, they’ve also taken over the Democratic Party, as we’ve seen. But they mean to get their religious viewpoints placed upon the rest of us, at whatever cost. And I think, again, you saw sanity prevail in the state of Mississippi, and they said, “Hell no.”

AMY GOODMAN: Diane Derzis, we want to thank you for being with us, running Mississippi’s only women’s health clinic that provides abortion. It’s called Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

DIANE DERZIS: Thank you.

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