Sunday, November 13, 2011

What We Learn from Mississippi

By Serena Josel

Last Tuesday, Mississippi voters shocked the nation by decisively rejecting Initiative 26--which would have banned abortion without exception, as well as many common forms of birth control, and in vitro fertilization.  Only ten days prior to the election, polls showed the measure passing by a 31 point margin, leaving advocates on both sides wondering what happened.

Ultimately voters decided that Initiative 26 went too far--even pro-life Gov. Haley Barbour expressed concern about the potential impact on women facing ectopic pregnancies or couples looking to in vitro for help conceiving.  Furthermore, research by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggests that views around pregnancy and parenting are far too complex to fit into a neat pro-choice/pro-life binary:
"Seven-in-ten Americans say the term 'pro-choice' describes them somewhat or very well, and nearly two-thirds simultaneously say the term 'pro-life' describes them somewhat or very well. This overlapping identity is present in virtually every demographic group."
Most Americans can find common ground when the conversation progresses beyond bumper-sticker speak and into the real-life impact of anti-contraceptive and anti-abortion measures.  Most of us agree that we'd like to see abortion become less necessary--and common-sense tells us that restricting access to birth control is a poor strategy in pursuit of this goal. 

Most agree that the decision to become a parent is among the most important that a woman can make in her life.  That decision is far too personal for the government to intrude into, and therefore best made by each individual based on her own unique circumstances.  Most Americans can accept that decisions we find difficult are not necessarily wrong.

Mississippi teaches me that complex issues deserve thoughtful conversation; that polarized debates rarely reflect honest feelings of ambiguity; and that most Americans (even in what Gallup called "the most conservative U.S. state") genuinely care about women's health.

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