Andy Kopsa

Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality

Prop 26 and Cristen Hemmins

Proposition 26 is being voted on today in Mississippi.  The initiative Mississippians are voting on would add this amendment to the state constitution:

As of now, the vote is a toss up.  The implications of prop 26 passing are beyond the pale.  The amendment effectively outlaws birth control, in vitro fertilization and could cast miscarriage as cause for criminal investigation.

Cristen Hemmins is an outspoken opponent to prop 26.  A survivor of a brutal rape, Hemmins puts a face on what prop 26 could do.  In addition to abolishing a woman’s right to choose prop 26 removes a woman’s right to her own family planning and makes no exception for abortion in the case of rape or incest.

Hemmins appeared on The Rachel Maddow show a couple of weeks ago and spoke earnestly and openly about her rape, saying this:

Well, I just felt like I had a really, a strong platform to talk about it. I mean, obviously, when I was abducted and raped and shot twice, I didn`t get pregnant. But if I had gotten pregnant — I mean, I would have had no options. And if I had gotten pregnant, if I had been forced by the state government to bear that child, it could have killed me  – physically, if not emotionally.

And, you know, when I tell people about what happened to me, I feel  like it`s, you know, it`s pretty hard for people to look me in the eye and say, you know, you shouldn`t have a choice, you shouldn`t be able to make  your own decisions about your own health care, you should make — you know, the state government should really make that decision for you.

Later in the interview, Maddow brought up the potential ban on birth control that would come from the passage of  prop 26:

MADDOW: The issue of the potential ban on birth control, and I know this is something that`s been discussed a lot and that is being contested by people who are advocates of this initiative and to a certain degree – is birth control becoming a central part of the debate in Mississippi?

Hemmins response was an eye opener and took the conversation about prop 26 to a completely different place:

HEMMINS: It is. You know, the problem is most people don`t understand how birth control works. You know, in Mississippi, we have a lot of abstinence only education. So, we have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, and, you know, a lot of Mississippians just don`t understand the biology of how babies happen.

Hemmins statement is easy for those in the abstinence industry to brush off – claiming they delay sexual debut despite all the studies to the contrary.  The fact that Hemmins is aware enough of the problem with ideologically driven, ineffective and deceptive abstinence only programming in the state speaks volumes of the prevalence of the problem.

When we continue to allow medically inaccurate, shaming and religious based sexual “education” into our schools, we are continuing to allow our teens to stay ignorant of sexual health and the realities of their own bodies.  Abstinence-only until marriage programs message of simply staying abstinent until (heterosexual) marriage has got to stop.

Here is one example of an abstinence program that has operated in Mississippi:

One CBAE (Community Based Abstinence Education) grantee, Community Matters, Inc., describes itself as “a faith-inspired, community non-profit organization.”Community Matters, Inc. runs the Rural Abstinence Partnership and is an affiliate partner of the Abstinence Clearinghouse. (See the Title V section of the South Dakota SIECUS State Profile for more information on the Abstinence Clearinghouse.) The Rural Abstinence Partnership conducts abstinence-only-until-marriage programming for young people ages twelve to eighteen in four rural counties in central Mississippi.

The Partnership also hosted the “Teen Rite of Passage Cultural Celebration and Parent Conference” in June 2007 in Jackson, Mississippi.Local high school principal Robert Mack spoke at the event and told the youth that “the bible says to abstain from fornication; and that’s just a big word for don’t do that.” He went on to say that the young people were “in the perfect will of God and obedient to a divine mandate.”

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