Speaking of Women's Rights: Mississippi Boiling

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mississippi Boiling

When talking about abortion rights in the U.S., my boss often uses the “boiling frog” analogy.  It goes like this:  If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out.  But if you put the frog in cold water and slowly raise the temperature, it won’t perceive the danger until it’s too late.

I was thinking about how the boiling frog fits with the results of the 2011 elections.  In case you haven’t heard, the most important victory for women in the elections came in the most unlikely place:  Mississippi, where voters resoundingly defeated an amendment that would have declared a fertilized egg to be a “person” under state law.    

This measure would have outlawed abortion without exception, as well as many forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization practices.  Given Mississippi’s anti-choice history, many thought the amendment would pass easily.  But after pro-choice forces put together a strong grassroots campaign, Mississippi voters rejected it by a solid 58-42 percent margin.

This victory was due to incredible efforts by abortion rights advocates in Mississippi and across the country.  But advocates of the “personhood” amendment also made a mistake:  They turned the heat up too high. 
It looks like other anti-choice organizations recognized this error.  Many anti-choice groups – including the National Right to Life Committee and the Catholic church – refused to endorse the Mississippi amendment. 

Why?  Publicly, they said that a “personhood” amendment would be immediately challenged in court, and would almost certainly be struck down by lower federal courts as violating Roe v. Wade.  They also expressed concern that if the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court now, the Court could issue a ruling that reaffirms or even strengthens a woman’s constitutional right to choose.

But privately, Mississippi must have confirmed their fear that when voters have an up-or-down vote on their ultimate goal – outlawing abortion in all circumstances – they lose.   

Instead, the cooler heads in the anti-choice movement continue to raise the temperature gradually by taking a systematic incremental approach of restricting abortion rights bit by bit across the country.  While not outlawing abortion entirely, these measures have sharply limited access to abortion in many states – including Mississippi, which now has only one abortion clinic in the entire state.  

And they are focusing on elections – particularly on electing an anti-choice President in 2012, who will appoint more anti-choice justices to the Supreme Court.  They know that Roe v. Wade likely has just a one-vote margin of support on the Supreme Court.  As a result, the right to choose could hinge on the results of the 2012 elections, when the state of the economy will be weighing much more on voters’ minds than abortion rights.

So the good news is that the frog isn’t boiling yet – not even in Mississippi.  But the anti-choice forces are still trying to raise the heat across the country, and we have to dial the temperature back before it’s too late.