Personhood Initiative approved and in the hands of Mississippians

After a ruling from the Mississippi Supreme Court in September, the Personhood Amendment is officially on the ballot for the November election, and voters are at odds over the initiative.

Across the state, many Mississippi citizens either fully support the measure or despise the idea completely. The Clarion-Ledger recently added a poll to their website, asking for a simple “yes or no” answer, and the majority can swing either direction depending on the time of day.

Ponotoc resident John Saddow is a die-hard supporter of the initiative and is confident in his belief that most Mississippians will agree.

“Mississippians are ready for a change, and we’re going to ignite the revolution,” Saddow said. “It hasn’t worked in other states because they don’t have the right kind of people — the moral people.”

Founder and director of Personhood Mississippi Les Riley has covered the state in the past year, hosting events and speaking at town hall meetings to support the movement and hopefully “get a win at the ballot box.”

The organization has hosted at least one event a day in Mississippi for the past three weeks, hosting fundraisers in the Delta and rallies in Ripley, usually drawing in a crowd of at least 35 people interested in supporting the cause per town.

“No one wants dead babies,” Riley said. “We’re just the first ones to stand up and fight for those babies. And if we (Mississippians) don’t, who will?”

Most of the people Riley finds at the events support the cause, but a few protestors always show up to “stir up a lively debate.”

“Before that baby can eat, sleep, breathe, think or move, he or she is a human being, and therefore deserves the same rights as those people who have been born,” Riley said.

Kelly McCollum, Mississippi State University alum and Olive Branch resident, falls on the opposite end of the spectrum from Saddow and Riley, but still fears the amendment has a good chance at passing.

“Most people don’t look at the amendment for what it really is,” McCollum said. “Most Christians see it, and automatically label it a pro-life issue. But it’s so much more than that.”

One of the main arguments McCollum and many people opposed have is the vagueness and general lack of information available to the public right now.

“Everyone is up in arms about what it will do to birth control and IUDs, but no one will know the answers to that until after the election when it’s too late,” McCollum said. “We can only hope voters know what it is they’re voting for, but there’s no guarantee.”

Many organizations both for and against have been hosting fundraisers and rallies across the state as the election nears. Recently, Oxford has seen both events on the Square within the span of a week.

On Oct. 12, the Lafayette County Women for Progress hosted a fundraiser at Two Stick to raise money for Mississippi for Healthy Families and Parents Against Amendment 26, two non-profit organizations who oppose the amendment.

Both groups have been seen in the Grove during Saturday tailgating with free information, stickers and posters to spread information on the least-understood initiative on the ballot this year.

The following week on Oct. 19, approximately 200 Oxonians gathered on the Courthouse lawn to “Save the Pill,” holding the largest rally in the state against the amendment. Cristen Hemmins is a former plaintiff in a case against the amendment and rape victim, and has traveled the state for over a year to tell her story in hopes of convincing at least a few people each time.

“Ask them to look you in the eye and tell you they believe a rape victim should not be allowed to receive (the morning after pill) as part of her treatment,” Hemmins said at the rally. “If they think they should be allowed access, tell them to vote ‘no’ on Initiative 26.”

Mississippi State University students held a similar protest on campus Oct. 13. Shannon Denney, senior political science major and protest coordinator, was shocked by the lack of knowledge about the initiative from men and women alike.

“I expected men to be less aware, but I assumed more women knew what was going on,” Denney said. “I think we taught a lot more people than we expected, and most importantly, we did it in a peaceful, proper way.”

More Ole Miss student organizations, such as the Feminist Majority and Law Students for Reproductive Justice, are finalizing plans on more events to oppose the initiative in the coming weeks, but no support rallies are scheduled as of yet in Oxford or on campus.

With Mississippi gubernatorial candidates Phil Bryant and Johnny Dupree concurring that the amendment should be ratified, the fate of women’s rights hangs in the balance until the votes are tallied Nov. 8.

@ The Daily Mississippian — Oxford, Miss.

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