Looking to the future

So, it’s been ten days since the election, and now that the dust has settled, many of you have asked what’s next. I think it’s clear to everyone on all sides of the fence that 26 was not the end of personhood, nationally or even here in Mississippi.

Post-election comments from Personhood USA make it clear that they’re gearing up for other fights. (Also of note in that article: admissions by Dr. Eric Webb of Yes On 26 that IVF doctors would be criminally liable for lab accidents, and by Jennifer Mason of Personhood USA that lifesaving terminations would not be allowed for cancer patients.)

Locally, Personhood Mississippi is already discussing legislative approaches to pass personhood. They’re reworking their PAC structure, and they’ve even specifically mentioned Georgia’s 2009 SB 169 as model legislation. (See Renee Whitley’s guest post on Voices of the Stroller Brigade for more on the SB 169 fight.)

The defeat of 26 was a major victory, but it’s clear that there is more work to do, and Parents Against MS 26 is committed to continuing the fight. We have the PAC infrastructure in place, and we are already beginning to explore the transition to legislative work.

Going forward, we will be re-branding our site as Parents Against Personhood, and reorganizing our existing content into a more comprehensive resource for personhood issues across states. We look forward to expanding it as well, with more in-depth articles on various aspects of the complex medico-legal issues generated by personhood. In the meantime, the Parents Against MS 26 site will remain available for archival purposes; Yes On 26 may have removed their entire Internet presence within three hours of the election results, but we stand behind every word we’ve written. We’re very excited to be able to share our new site with you in just a few short weeks!

We want to give you all our most sincere thanks for everything you did to help defeat Initiative 26. We hope you’ll continue to stand by us in the upcoming election cycle.

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We did it

Nobody, NOBODY expected a 58-42 result. We made political history tonight. YOU made political history. Your voices, and your stories, made the difference.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the trust you placed in me. I’m humbled beyond belief to have been able to stand up and speak for all of us.

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Thank you, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

The following statement was issued today by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) strongly believes that the autonomy of women to make personal health care decisions must be respected. As the nation’s leading organization of women’s health physicians, dedicated to all aspects of women’s health, ACOG supports quality health care appropriate to every woman’s needs throughout her life, including the full spectrum of clinical and reproductive services. Mississippi’s “Personhood Amendment,” Proposition 26, does not respect the autonomy of women and jeopardizes women’s health. We urge the citizens of the State of Mississippi to reject this Proposition on November 8th. Proposition 26 substitutes ideology for science and represents a grave threat to women’s health and reproductive rights that will have long-term negative outcomes for our patients and society.

Proposition 26 defines the term person to “include every human being from the moment of fertilization”, which has wide-reaching implications that will impact access to women’s health, including treatment for cancer, infertility treatment, birth control options, and pregnancy termination. This proposal unnecessarily exposes women to serious health risks and significantly undermines the relationship between physicians and our patients. The vague and overly broad terms in Proposition 26 will prevent physicians from providing the care vital to women’s health.

Proposition 26 must be defeated in the best interest of women’s health.

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Day of Voices

Today, we’re going to publish all of the personal stories you’ve been sending. We want everyone to hear us, and know why we’ll be voting NO ON 26 on Tuesday, and why we think you should too.

Voices of the Stroller Brigade
Day of Voices: Tony
Day of Voices: Amanda
Day of Voices: Lydonia
Day of Voices: Erin
Day of Voices: Ann
Day of Voices: Kim
Day of Voices: Paige
Day of Voices: Margaret
Day of Voices: Sally

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Voices of the Stroller Brigade

The following is a guest post from Renee Whitley, volunteer advocate with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Organization.

My first experience with infertility advocacy came out of a sense of sheer frustration. I was sad that my body could not do what it was supposed to do naturally. The bills for our infertility treatment were piling up. We certainly could not afford what we were spending on medication and treatment. To add insult to injury, our insurance covered none of this. Then I read that our Georgia governor at the time, Sonny Purdue, had compared infertility treatment to plastic surgery. I got angry. And I was on lupron. Bad combination.

I sat down and wrote a letter to my state representative and my state senator asking if they would sponsor infertility insurance coverage legislation in Georgia. I read it, checked for errors and hit send.

The next day, I got a phone call from my representative. He and his wife had suffered from infertility and surprisingly enough, had used my same doctor many years earlier. That was the day that Georgia House Bill 1012 was born. It died in committee later that year but it existed and people learned from it. I always like to show people the letter in one hand and the bill in the other just to make the point that one voice can make a difference.

Several years later, in 2009 under that very same Gold Dome of the Georgia Capitol, I learned that more than 100,000 united voices can stop a movement.

That was the year we saw one of the first of the “personhood” bills get a lot of traction. The original version of Georgia SB169 was presented to the public as sponsor Senator Ralph Hudgeon’s solution to California ‘s “Octomom” situation and was artfully surrounded in language about the health and well-being of Georgia’s women and children. Hudgeon’s “solution” was to (a) limit the number of eggs that could be fertilized; (b) limit the number of embryos a doctor could “implant” in a woman’s uterus; and (c) ban all embryo freezing. In other words, it would have set fertility treatment back about 30 years. These limits not only violate nationwide medical practice standards, but also go far, far beyond anything warranted to prevent octuplets. Indeed, they would restrict IVF out of existence.

What would the effects of these limits be? We don’t know which eggs will fertilize after insemination and which will become viable embryos. So, the Senator’s proposal would increase the number of cycles a woman would have to go through to achieve a pregnancy, seriously upping the cost to patients. Infertility doctors would be forced back to a 1970s-era standard of care to treat their patients. It is hard to believe they would choose to stay in Georgia if this law passed.

Studies have shown that couples with insurance coverage for IVF routinely transfer fewer embryos than those without insurance coverage. This leads to fewer higher order multiple births and makes the new ASRM standard of a single embryo transfer much more financially feasible for couples facing infertility. So, if you really want to reduce the rate of high-order multiple births, you provide insurance coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility. Why wasn’t he doing that?

This was never his intention at all. Buried in the first version of the bill was its true intention and purpose: a provision known as “personhood.” At the time, this movement had been quietly advancing for at least eight years and had gained legislative traction in states throughout the country since 2005. “Personhood” would endow an embryo or pre-embryo, at any stage after sperm meets egg, with the full legal standing of a living, breathing person. Essentially the personhood movement was seeking to legislate when life begins in an attempt to undermine the original Roe v. Wade argument. There would be no “woman’s right to choose” because there is no woman in the argument. The embryo is equal or even more valuable in its own legal standing.

The year Georgia SB 169 was introduced, it gained a great deal of attention with the hoopla surrounding the Octomom scandal. Additionally, the world’s largest biotech convention was headed for Atlanta later that year, so the time was right for certain groups to try to make a big political statement. SB169 was that statement and the majority of the Georgia Senate was determined to make that happen.

What they did not count on was the massive, collective roar from a group that had been fairly silent until 2009. Current and former infertility patients.

I had been a long-time advocacy volunteer with RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association. We posted frequent updates on RESOLVE’s website, with letters of opposition to send to the Senators. Our three wonderful Atlanta clinics sent emails to their patients, past and present, urging them to take action and linking them to the RESOLVE website for instructions. Nationally, the media was paying attention but many reporters missed the forest for the trees. Instead of recognizing the legislation’s true purpose, they focused on the embryo transfer limits – not the embryo creation limits and certainly not the ramifications of not being able to freeze any remaining embryos. So there were hurdles.

But women and men showed up at the Capitol in masses, ready to testify if needed. Some brought their children, some brought pictures of children, some brought pictures of embryos from prior cycles. Some, sadly, had no pictures at all. But they all had stories to tell. And they talked.

What still inspires me was the amount of privacy people gave up in order to fight this legislation. One RESOLVE volunteer, who has a very southern family that does not discuss topics like infertility, came to the Capitol to tell her story in front of a Senate Committee. I told her that if she felt she was giving up too much privacy, then she did not need to testify. She looked at me, squared her shoulders and said that she was doing this for her daughter, born through IVF.

Another woman made cards to give to all legislators. On the front was her daughter; a curly-headed sprite of a girl in front of the Statue of Liberty. Just like Lady Liberty, she had her arm raised in triumph. On the front was her birthdate. Inside it said, “Three IVF cycles, 32 eggs retrieved, 17 eggs fertilized, seven embryos transferred. One little girl. Lucy.” She wanted the legislators to understand that, out of 17 fertilized eggs, only one became her little girl.

One moment I will remember always came during testimony from Dr. Andy Toledo, at the first of three committee hearings. Having just listened to testimony from a pro-life doctor about the great benefits of similar embryo restrictions in Europe, particularly in the U.K. Dr. Toledo made short work of his argument. He pointed out that in the U.K., most couples have coverage for their cycles: IVF is covered under the national health care. And there are no bans on the number of eggs fertilized or freezing embryos. People in the room erupted into cheers and applause! I have never seen that kind of response at any committee hearing! Outwardly, I managed to keep a serious face but inside my heart soared! As he deftly refuted the previous testimony, the standing-room only crowd, complete with strollers, broke into cheers two more times. The committee chair actually had to threaten to hear only closed testimony!

Throughout the week-long time frame leading up to the Senate floor vote, RESOLVE constituents sent more than 100,000 emails and faxes to Georgia’s Senators. Fax machines throughout the Capitol were out of paper and supplies of toner were running low! It was estimated that at least 50,000 more letter against the bill were received as well.

These voices and the people at the Capitol-they made the difference. The Senators were forced to rewrite SB 169 several times, each time backpedaling to remove provisions we objected to. One senator referred to us as …”that hornet’s nest of infertility patients…”

The day of the floor vote, patients, moms with strollers and even some grandparents were packed outside the Senate chambers, watching the floor debate. Doctors, patients and advocates throughout the country were were watching via live feed. Our champion in the senate, Senator David Adelman made an eloquent plea to table the issue. Others preferred to lob derogatory rhetoric like hand grenades on a battleground. Senator Preston Smith compared a couple who have battled the disease of infertility, who have embryos in cryopreservation; he compared them to slave owners. He linked embryonic stem cell research, the same research that is going on at some of our best universities in the U.S. and Georgia; Harvard, Stanford, Georgia Tech and University of Georgia, to the hideous experimentation suffered by Jewish victims of the Holocaust at the hands of Joseph Mengele.

After the fact, a friend who is a long-time lobbyist at the Georgia Capitol told me that the “stroller brigade”—the dozens of moms with their infertility-treatment babies in their strollers, had actually won this battle. And the strollers and babies did make an impact! But I also remember the guy who would come every day on his lunch hour, clutching a picture of the two embryos he and his wife had recently transferred on a failed IVF cycle. They were saving money to try again. And the wonderful woman who testified about her son born through IVF, and then commented on-camera to a reporter that “I guess my mom and dad know we used IVF now…”

The final version of SB 169 that passed the Senate that day was a very different piece of legislation than the one that we had battled. Anything related to personhood had been removed. It was sent to Georgia House and was never heard in committee. Another lobbyist called it “a political a**-kicking.”

Without the response from the people that took the time to come to the Capitol, send emails and faxes and make phone calls, this legislation could have become law. A law that would let the state appoint a guardian for your cryopreserved embryos and tell you what you could or could not do with them. A law that would gut the sanctity of the doctor/patient relationship. A law that would dictate the terms of treatment between a patient and her physician.

William Saleton of “Slate” called what we witnessed in Georgia that session, “the birth of a movement.” For the very first time, we saw infertility patients, both pro-choice and pro-life raise their voices as one and shout a resounding “NO” against personhood. No, you will not use my disease, my medical treatment and my family as pawns in a political game. No, this legislation, this strategy is a tactic that will take away my chance, my hope of having a baby. No, the government has no business dictating the terms of my infertility treatment.

I want to thank “Parents Against MS26” for giving both current and former infertility patients in Mississippi a forum for their voices to be heard. You may not think that one voice or one story about infertility can make a difference but I can tell you from experience that it does.

I think every southerner knows just what happens when you poke at a hornet’s nest.

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Day of Voices: Erin

When I was 23 years old, shortly after I was married in December of 2002, I discovered I was pregnant, despite the fact that I was taking the pill ortho tri cyclen at the time. My husband and I at the time were living in a condo owned by my brother-in-law and were barely making our bills so we decided to terminate the pregnancy. I had an appointment scheduled with Planned Parenthood for an abortion. However, prior to my appointment date I started having pain and bleeding at which time my husband rushed me to the emergency room. I was given an ultra sound and was told the pregnancy was ectopic and was taken into surgery to have it removed. Once I recovered I resumed taking the pill.

Two years later, despite continued use of the pill, I once again discovered I was pregnant, and once again my husband I felt we were not ready to be parents and decided again to terminate the pregnancy. However, shortly after making that decision I once again started to feel pain and was rushed into surgery for yet another ectopic. After the second incident my doctor and I both decided the pill was not the best option for me and I started on depo provera shots once every 3 months. Two years later, however, I was once again pregnant.

Considering my past, I went in immediately for an ultra sound and discovered the pregnancy was healthy. My husband and were in the middle of moving out of state at the time and discussed our decision at length, but ultimately decided to keep the baby. When I was 28 years old, I gave birth to our son on the 4th of July 2007. He is now 4 years old.

My husband and I both love our son and being parents, but given the state of the economy and also our desire to ensure we will always be able to afford the needs of our child, we have decided not to have any more children, at least not for the time being. I am currently using a form of birth control called ParaGard which is a 10 year non-hormonal IUD.

ParaGard works mainly by preventing the sperm from reaching and fertilizing the egg. However, should an egg become fertilized, ParaGard may also prevent the egg from attaching itself to the uterine wall. This is how most types of birth control work and for this reason proposition 26, because it grants personhood to an egg at the moment of fertilization, could potentially outlaw almost every form of birth control.

So far this is the only form of birth control that has proven to be safe, effective, and convenient for me. I currently live in Southern California. I do not, nor have I ever lived in Mississippi, and I am very grateful for that fact, considering the form of birth control that I have to be most effective to me, will most likely be outlawed, should proposition 26 pass.

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Day of Voices: Paige

Amendment 26 scares me because it could literally have life threatening consequences for me.

My husband and I have been trying – unsuccessfully – to get pregnant for almost 5 years. After seeing numerous doctors, trying lots of different options and undergoing a myriad of tests, we were advised that it would be best for me to have surgery to fix what they thought was endometriosis. Luckily, during surgery, the doctor discovered that I did not have endometroosis, but that I did have some cysts in my ovaries and a blocked fallopian tube. During surgery the doctor removed the cysts and unblocked my fallopian tube. Since the surgery, the almost constant pain I felt before has all but disappeared and my chances of getting pregnant naturally have increased. It was a blessing.

However, because the fallopian tube was unblocked during surgery, I am at a higher risk for ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy – or a tubal pregnancy – is when a fertilized egg is implanted outside of the uterus – most often in the fallopian tube. If this egg – that will never become a viable pregnancy – is allowed to continue to grow, it could rupture and cause me to bleed to death. However, if caught early enough, ectopic pregnancies can be treated with the chemotherapy drug methotrexate. Basically, the drug stops the embryo from growing and the mother miscarries it naturally. Since my doctor knows that I am at an increased risk for ectopic pregnancy, he will monitor that and catch the problem early enough to treat it with methotrexate. If the ectopic pregnancy isn’t caught early enough, surgery that removes the fallopian tube is often required. If the ectopic pregnancy isn’t caught at all, the mother could die.

My husband and I want to have a child – and we’ve gone through a lot of hard times both physically and emotionally trying to get there. We feel good about where our journey is headed. However, we know that I have some issues that will need to be closely monitored should we be blessed with a pregnancy. It scares me to know that if amendment 26 passes, it could keep my doctor from giving me life saving drugs that would end an unviable ectopic pregnancy. This legislation puts my life in danger.

Regardless if you are pro-life or pro-choice, please think about the consequences if this bill passes. What if my story was your sister’s story? Or your wife’s story? Or your story? How would you feel then? I’m voting NO to amendment 26 and I hope that others will too. The health and lives of Mississippi women are at stake.

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Day of Voices: Margaret

I am a mother. I am not one of the legions of devastated women who have previously spoken up on this site and others. I’ve never been raped, had a tubal pregnancy, or had to seek treatment for infertility. But like these women, my story is a little different from most other mothers in this world. My pregnancy turned out to have a mostly happy ending with a beautiful mostly healthy girl. However, it could have turned out so differently. I feel like I walked the terrible line many of these women unfortunately fell over and though I did not, it makes me vehemently understand their fight against MS26 and join them in that battle. My reason for voting No on 26 comes down to one word and one moment. The word is choice, and this is the moment….

I became pregnant in 2000 a few months before my 21st birthday . I was on the pill and it was not planned or entirely welcome at that time in my life but I accepted that it was done and kept on trucking. Everything rolled right along with my pregnancy until That Day,y when my road would hook left and go off into the wild blue unknown.

When I was about 6 months pregnant, I was in the sonogram room, waving the magic ultrasound wand over my stomach and waiting to oooh and aww over the results. Except the oohing and awwing never came. Baby girl was turned just right for us to see the blurry image of her little face. Just right for the ultrasound tech to fixedly stare at it before starting to busily take still shots and measurements of everything she could see.

Growing up as the daughter of a doctor and nurse gives you a kind of medical ‘bad news’ sixth sense. All your life you’ve heard and seen your parents voices or faces make the subtle change that means bad news is coming to a patient. It helps you recognize when that news is coming for you. I looked at Shellie’s face and suspected that Something Was Wrong. And when she asked my mother to step outside while I de-gooed myself, I knew. Unknown trouble had arrived for me and my baby.

You know how it goes when something terrible happens to you. A million little thoughts go through your mind at the speed of light. They’re individual sentences that flash so quickly they form a wordless stream of panic. When my mother walked out of the door of that room, the next moment was an endless series of questions running through my mind. What was wrong with baby girl? My first instinct from the way the sonographer studied her face and head was Down’s Syndrome, or maybe anencephaly. Those were the first two horrible things that crossed my mind but I knew they weren’t the only, or the worst, possibilities. And it lead me to consider in an instant. Consider what might happen to this baby. Was she doomed? Would she be crippled, a vegetable, or even die in utero?

Or worse yet…would I be forced to make the choice to go ahead and end her life if it was not viable for her to survive? In my mind it was a real possibility. God forbid, I might have to do that. And as it flashed through my mind I knew that if I had to, I could. In that moment I became a mother. And a mother will do anything to keep her child from needlessly suffering. I could make the choice to end my baby’s life if I knew it would save her the pain of being born only to die. I would not put my child through that.

You make think that’s an exaggeration. That it was a kind of crazy overreaction when I didn’t even know what the problem was. But it wasn’t you in that room. And chances are if you have born a child, you probably had a perfectly normal, unevenful pregnancy. So you probably don’t truly comprehend how easily it’s possible to have those thoughts. You don’t FEEL it in your heart like I do. And I’m glad for you if that’s the case. Never would I wish that moment on anyone.

Thankfully, it was not any of the terrible tradgedies I had been picturing. Instead, baby girl had a cleft lip and palate. I didn’t really breathe much of a sigh of relief because I instantly realized that at the very least my child was resigned to a lifetime of painfully surgeries and procedures. A lifetime of possible rude stares and ridicule by others. At worst there were other medical conditions related to cleft palate more serious than cosmetic damage that would have to be confirmed or denied with further examination. But at least I knew at that moment that she would almost positively live. I would not have to make that horrible life or death decision. Which brings me to my point in sharing this story with you.

I cannot imagine living in a world where that choice would not be mine to make but rest on the views of anyone simply old enough to vote. People with no experience in the matter, people without the intelligence to understand what they’re voting on, people who can not even have children, people who simply don’t care and will just check the box because it’s on the paper and go their merry way. Doesn’t that scare you? Doesn’t that make you stop and think? A woman’s choice over her own body could be taken away. It could be a world where poor unfortunate women are forced to bear a child born only to suffer before dying. Because that happens. There are children conceived who will not live, no matter how much they’re wanted. And it’s inconceivable to me that a mother would not be able to make the choice to prevent that child from the suffering.

I can’t understand people who want to take away a woman’s inherent right to bear or not bear children. It’s the most basic and personal of rights. It’s not your business to decide for me. Not your body, your life, or your family but mine. You may pat yourself on the back and think YOU are above that choice, that you would never make that decision. If you do, stop and think. I mean close your eyes right where you are and really put yourself in the room and moment I lived. What would you do if tragedy struck? If you vote yes on 26 it won’t matter what you would do. Cause you wouldn’t be able to decide.

That’s a horrible idea, isn’t it?You have never stepped in my shoes…and the shoes of these other women who understand the dangers of MS26 and share their painful stories with you in the hopes that you will understand too. But I hope that you will realize the hard thought behind these stories, all the hard decisions that were made, and then decide that it was our right to make them instead of yours. And vote no on 26.

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Day of Voices: Ann

I have stage 4 endometriosis and after years of IUI, fertility meds, etc., my husband and I decided that IVF was the right thing for us. With the expert care of Dr. Randall Hines and his team, 13 eggs were retrieved, eight were fertilized. Six of the eight stopped dividing. The two remaining were transferred and my beautiful twin boys will turn two this month. I know how fortunate I am.

I would love to expand our family through another round of IVF. I am terrified this initiative will pass and my hopes of a 3rd child will pass with it. The infertility made me feel like my body was betraying me; and now it breaks my heart to think that my home state could also betray me.

I understand the people who are pro-life; but I don’t understand voting for an initiative that could have such sweeping effects on Mississippi women and families.

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