"Motherhood is the hardest job on earth," we often hear and say. With the birth of every child, a new mom signs up for 18 or more years of nurturing, supporting, teaching and guiding a human life, a responsibility any sensible person would want to undertake with caution. It's not surprising then that a strong majority of women of childbearing age — around 62 percent — currently use some form of contraception, as have 99 percent of women up to age 44 who have ever had sexual intercourse. Being able to plan one's family is an important freedom that can make the difference between a productive, successful life and one lived in poverty.
We at the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, like many people across the nation, breathed a sigh of relief at the recent decision by Mississippi voters to reject a "personhood" amendment that, in addition to containing no mercy for victims of incest and rape, would have outlawed common forms of contraception, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and the "morning after" pill often used by rape victims. The amendment would have also had a chilling effect on women and couples trying to conceive a child through in vitro fertilization, because they'd fear a potential murder charge for unused fertilized eggs.
That any woman would be punished as a criminal for taking control of her reproductive destiny is extreme by any measure, as the reasonable people of Mississippi agreed. With the help of the ACLU and Mississippians for Healthy Families to educate and inform the public, Mississippi voters rejected the assertion that fertilized eggs are people with legal rights. They rejected this proposed government invasion into women's privacy, and they sent a clear message to those extremists who would return women and families to lifestyles and health technologies more than a half-century old.
Fringe forces are already regrouping to take the "personhood" fight to other states. The ACLU-Indiana stands ready to help Indiana's women and families fight for their reproductive freedoms and right to privacy. Visit www.acluin.org for more information about your constitutional rights, and how the ACLU can help.
Gilbert Holmes, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana
December 14, 2011