Editor’s Note: Kimberly Kelly is an assistant professor of sociology and gender studies in Mississippi. Her research and publication focuses on gender inequality and reproductive politics. She is working on a book, “In the Name of the Mother: Gender and Religion in the Crisis Pregnancy Center Movement.”
On Tuesday, Mississippi voters can decide whether the state's constitution should define personhood as "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the function equivalent thereof." If approved, it would make it impossible to get an abortion, and hamper the ability to get some forms of birth control. Click here to read an argument in favor of the amendment.
By Kimberly Kelly, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Ten years ago, when I was a broke graduate student working to become a college professor, I became pregnant. I already worked two jobs to make ends meet and could barely make it. I had no health insurance. Most importantly, I was not ready to be a mother and I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to be. Deciding what to do, whether to risk my education and career and gamble on a life path I was ambivalent about at best, was the single hardest thing I have ever done.
After carefully considering abortion, adoption and parenting, I decided to continue the pregnancy and am a single mother to someone I love more than anything in this world. It was my life and body, and my responsibility to make that call.
It wasn’t an easy choice. It wasn’t easy to make. And it definitely wasn’t easy to live as a single mother working toward an advanced degree.
Until I finished graduate school, I continued to work two jobs. Stress, exhaustion and depression were ongoing problems. Now, I’m struggling to pay off more than $120,000 in student loan debt; about $35,000 of this represents child care costs I paid so I could attend school. My education suffered because of the demands of motherhood and my career continues to be negatively affected.
It was very difficult to reconcile the identity of “mother” with my sense of self without feeling like I was being swallowed whole by an archaic set of gendered rules.
Yet I am a woman, a mother, a sociologist and a Mississippi feminist - yes, we exist. These identities converge in a sense of outrage and hurt when I contemplate Amendment 26, a proposed change to the Mississippi Constitution that would define fertilized eggs as legal persons. The amendment would ban abortion, many types of infertility treatments and the “morning-after” pill. It has the potential to essentially ban all forms of birth control, except condoms.
Becoming a mother was my decision. I am fortunate to be in a relatively privileged position and can make it work. It is repugnant to even consider having no choice but to completely transform everything I value about my life because of beliefs I don’t share and find morally reprehensible for their dehumanizing treatment of women.
I respect the right of all persons to make their own decisions about contraception, abortion and reproduction, including those who oppose all three. I trust women to make the best choices for themselves, whatever those may be. Anything less is unconscionable.
When it comes to gender inequality in the United States, there are a thousand little pinpricks I may encounter in the course of a day, and then there are blatant slaps in the face. Amendment 26 sends a clear message about the devolution of the status of women in America.
I was pro-choice and pro-woman before I became pregnant and I am even more so now. The burdens of pregnancy and the challenges of motherhood have made it ever clearer that only the person most affected, the woman, can rightfully decide what to do in the event of a pregnancy. The worldviews of those a million cultural light-years away should not dictate my fate to me.
Amendment 26 would circumvent the free will and judgment of women who do not want – for reasons that are no one’s business but their own – to be pregnant. It is an attempt to tell women they are not competent to make the most personal of decisions about their bodies and their physical and emotional health. It reduces women to incubators forcibly stripped of basic bodily integrity. This initiative implies that if any woman in Mississippi does not agree with conservative social and religious gender norms, then she cannot be trusted to make moral or ethical decisions about her own body. It allows the religious beliefs of others to be inscribed upon women’s bodies. It is draconian, oppressive and dehumanizing.
Those who support this amendment seem to believe that if it comes down to a choice between the rights of a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, intelligent human being or a cluster of cells, the cells win. This amendment would pit the rights of women against those of fertilized eggs in a zero-sum game. Trumped and trapped by a cluster of cells produced by my own body – that’s what supporters of this initiative believe should happen to my personhood, simply because I am a woman. If a fertilized egg is a person, then at best I am a lesser person, which means not a person at all.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kimberly Kelly.