Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Personhood supporters love babies and women (just not at the same time)

The noble advocates for life want women to know that they are only trying to help. By lobbying to remove all exceptions for abortion, including life of the mother, they are sending us a message of love: they don’t want to control us; they just want to stop us from making a mistake.

Every year, many women are raped, get pregnant, have abortions and regret it. Well, maybe “many” is an overstatement. Rep. Stephen King doesn't know any women who publicly advertise their rape-conceived pregnancies, which means pregnancy from incest or statutory rape is statistically rare. Or maybe Todd Akin is right, and it doesn't happen at all since it isn't biologically possible for a victim of a legitimate rape to conceive.

I’m sorry, I misspoke. What I meant by “legitimate rape” is that women lie about being raped all the time, not that rape has to be physically traumatic to activate the latant uterine superpowers that prevent women from becoming pregnant, which is what I initially implied by explaining exactly what I meant and then changing my story without apologizing for the original remark. Whew, that was close. For a moment there, I was afraid I had said something offensive.

In defense of Akin’s misguided statements, Personhood supporters have misapplied a study on infertility as evidence that the female body can indeed prevent pregnancy. Even if it was out of context, it still doesn't change the misrepresented facts. If that isn't enough proof, consider the often quoted words of Theodor Geisel: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” And he should know. He was a famous doctor.

There are, indeed, women who have ended their rape-conceived pregnancies and regretted it. Ironically, many of them believe that other victims should not have the same choices they were afforded during their times of crisis. Since they couldn't be trusted to make the right decisions for their lives and their bodies under duress, they rationalize, clearly we can’t either.

Other victims of rape elect to carry their pregnancies to term and either put their babies up for adoption or raise them. Many of these women feel so strongly about their choices that they wish to eliminate all other options for future rape victims. As former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee recently said, lots of wonderful people are the result of rape. His thoughts on the consensually conceived pregnancies resulting in the births of serial killers, brutal dictators and the members of Nickelback, however, remain unclear.

Many religious fundamentalists believe that life begins at conception. For them, it is not an opinion but a faith-based fact that they believe with enough fervor to fuel another crusade. If you disagree, forget hell; you could go to jail. Personhood advocates loudly declare that abortion is murder and should be criminalized as such, regardless of the circumstances. They’d also like to remind you of God’s love and compassion and capacity for forgiveness. Just don’t expect any of that from those who believe they are following the teachings of the Bible when it comes to protecting the unborn.

Granted, Biblical definitions can be outdated. Back then, women were property and rapists were bound by law to marry their victims. No one is saying things should be like that again, at least not out loud. Now, we have rights. Personhood advocates believe that a newly formed zygote should have the same rights as a fully developed human being (until it becomes a girl who becomes a victim impregnated by a rapist, at which point she had more rights before she was born).

These days, the victim certainly doesn't have to marry her attacker, but in Mississippi and several other states, he is entitled to visitation and shared custody of the resulting child. This relationship ties the victim to her attacker for years to come. Personhood advocates want to compel women to give birth against our will based on their belief that our bodies essentially become the property of single-cell souls at the moment of fertilization. Now, that’s progress.

According to pro-lifers, we shouldn't view this as a women’s rights issue. That would be petty and selfish. Some even refer to abortion as a form of self-worship. Instead, perhaps we should think of ourselves as servers that are offline and pregnancy as a biological 404 Error: Autonomy temporarily not available. Rights not found. Try reloading in nine months.

Please don’t misunderstand. Personhood supporters value all life equally. They love women and believe women have rights just like the developing fetus. The fact that they believe those rights should temporarily disappear when women become pregnant doesn't mean they don’t love us at all; it just means they love the unborn more.
This column originally appeared on The Clarion-Ledger website on September 4, 2012. 
Copyright 2012. Natalie Winningham/Business Ink. All rights reserved. 

Small town women, big political change

There are no popularity contests in small towns. Everyone already knows you, your parents, where you live, and what church you attend—unless you don’t go at all, in which case you are probably on the prayer list.

Growing up, I sang in the Sunday choir with several classmates and regularly saw my teachers in the grocery store. My high school algebra instructor was a stern, no-nonsense woman who also happened to be my youth Bible study leader. Incidentally, it is nearly impossible for a Baptist preacher’s daughter in rural Mississippi to skip school. At least that’s what I hear.

Familiarity on this level within a community is not uncommon and can create an almost impenetrable wall of solidarity. Just ask anyone who’s not from there. Cultural and social norms rooted in a largely conservative ideology have been followed for decades without serious challenge. However, recent legislation authored by some of Mississippi’s most conservative lawmakers has been met with resistance within these same communities not from liberals infiltrating the fold but from God-fearing, church-going southern women.

This shift in perspective was evident last November in Mississippi’s startling rejection of the Personhood amendment, which sought to define life as beginning at fertilization. Originally publicized by supporters as a pro-life amendment that would effectively end abortion in the state, advocates predicted it would pass by a wide margin. But when the far-reaching consequences of the initiative were revealed, there was a groundswell of opposition from conservative women throughout the state.

As recently as this month, lawyers from both sides faced off in federal court over a new law that would close the only abortion clinic in this state. Conservative women who are personally pro-life and politically pro-choice understand that eliminating access to safe abortion will not eliminate abortion in an imperfect world but will instead cause desperate women to seek unsafe, potentially life-threatening solutions. For many, this harsh stance is incompatible with their pro-life values.

Atlee Breland is a Christian wife and mother from Jackson who founded ParentsAgainst Personhood, a political action committee aimed at defeating the amendment. In the weeks leading up to the November election, members of the PAC’s Facebook page often prefaced their concerns about the initiative by identifying themselves as conservative, pro-life, Christian women. It was important to these women for others to know that their personal values remained unchanged; they were drawing a line, not switching sides.

During the last legislative session, Personhood resurfaced as a bill along with legislation that would have required women seeking first trimester abortions to hear the fetus’ heart beat prior to treatment. This medically unnecessary procedure often requires the use of a painfully intrusive trans-vaginal ultrasound probe.

Many conservative women regarded this as yet another attempt to enforce morality by overreaching politicians. When both bills failed, a “heartbeat amendment” was added to an otherwise widely-favored bill in a last-minute attempt to bring it to a vote. Once again, women mobilized and the bill died in committee.
At the same time, controversy over access to contraceptives and Personhood initiatives in other states were making national headlines. Many became alarmed when religious institutions across the country not only sanctioned this expansion of the government’s role as morality police, they wanted to openly participate in it.

For this reason, conservative southern women are pushing back against pressure from their religious leaders. They refuse to conform not because they are rebelling against the church but because many of them are trying to protect it. These women recognize that the powerful ally the conservative church seeks in the government could easily become the monster that consumes it.

House Representative Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) is the author of the Personhood and heart beat bills as well as the driving force behind the last-ditch heartbeat amendment that failed during last session. He is also a practicing attorney and interim Baptist preacher at a church in a small town not far from where I live. 

Around here, Gipson is regarded as a hero fighting to reclaim our country’s Christian heritage. In May, he posted on his personal Facebook wall that he will not check his religious views at the door of the House of Representatives, so voters and constituents can expect similar legislation in the future.

Women in conservative small towns will be watching. Women who understand what is at stake. Women who are influential, resourceful and tenacious. Women who embody the phrase, “If mama’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Women like me.
This column originally appeared on The Clarion-Ledger website on July 23, 2012. 
Copyright 2012. Natalie Winningham/Business Ink. All rights reserved.