Friday, November 4, 2011

Mississippi initiative could set intrusive precedent

When things are going badly in almost any state, there's always Mississippi to make it look better.

Mississippi holds unenviable positions on many public services lists. It ranks 48th in education. It is No. 1 in poverty and obesity. Currently, 44 percent of Mississippi kids are either overweight or obese, as are 70 percent of adults there.

Like most states, Mississippi has some serious fiscal problems. Money is tight and there is a need to be careful with public resources. Unable to solve its big problems, however, this year Mississippi is trying a different approach: Draw voters' attention to something else.

This new distraction is Ballot Measure 26. Mississippi voters will be asked to decide the question that has, so far, eluded scientists: When, exactly, does human life begin? By voting yes on Measure 26, Mississippi citizens will affirm that "personhood" begins, by legal definition, at the exact moment of fertilization.

This measure has the potential not only to criminalize abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, but also most forms of birth control, in-vitro fertilization and stem-cell research. Couples unable to conceive, individuals with neurological disorders and medical professionals dedicated to their patients will all face the possibility of criminal prosecution.

By voting yes on Measure 26, some of the most conservative voters in the country will allow the state, using its law enforcement powers, to interfere in the most private areas of its citizens' lives in the continuing cultural war on sex and science.

Whatever your personal beliefs about the morality of these issues, even the supporters of Measure 26 admit it likely will be tied up, and will tie up the state of Mississippi, in court for years. Instead of addressing education, poverty or obesity, this Bible Belt state is choosing to focus on theology and biology with the cost of it all falling directly on Mississippi taxpayers.

Mississippi is likely to be the first state where legislation this intrusive will become law. Similar initiatives are being planned in Florida, Montana and Ohio. Can it be long before Idahoans face the same choice?

Wisely, last year, Colorado voters voted down "personhood" measures by a strong majority. But Colorado is Colorado and Mississippi is not. In another year, Mississippians will likely be poorer, less educated and less healthy. The political decisions we make have consequences.

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