I didn’t write about Initiative 26 in Mississippi before it failed. I considered it but I could not bring myself to write about it. The truth is that I did not write because first off- many better equipped bloggers and journalists were broaching the subject and secondly because I could not fathom that anything I might say could possibly sway someone away from voting “Yes” if they were set on doing so.
In case you are not aware, Initiative 26 on the Mississippi ballot yesterday was centered around defining “personhood” or when life actually begins. A noble question and one I think we all ought to ponder. With that question, however, comes a host of other questions. How much is science? How much is faith? How strict the measure? How wide the grace?
In my best moments I think the desire to want to put legislation around this issue and issues like it has good roots. I truly do believe that my friends who supported Initiative 26 did so because they believed it was something good, something life-giving or perhaps, life preserving. I cannot fault my conservative friends for that.
Unfortunately, I’m simply not confident we live in the kind of society that can make legislation around this without inevitably throwing women under the bus. I won’t go into a rant about what could have happened if this initiative had passed. I will say that it opens the door to all kinds of ambiguity in the legal system which I find ironic. For a group of people to be so certain about the beginning of life yet make legislation which would lead to ambiguity is almost poetic in its irony. The real issue to me is that the ambiguity resulting would be centered around “fault” and it does seem as though all fingers would then point to the woman. Did the woman do something to cause the miscarriage? Is the woman’s life more important than the growing baby’s life? Did the failed birth control pill the woman was taking result in the loss of life?
I’ll tell you now, I’m glad Initiative 26 failed. I hoped it would fail. I’m glad it failed because I’ve suffered three miscarriages and I remember feeling as though I was at fault. On my worst days I still wonder what I could have done differently, if I did something harmful- was it the sushi? the exhaust leak I found in my car? my lack of prenatal vitamins? too much coffee? Each miscarriage was a loss to me.
And I’m glad it failed because I have met women who might have died if they had not terminated an early pregnancy.
And I’m glad it failed because as much as I’d like to think that life begins the moment the cells start to divide and make someone new I simply do not believe we are meant to place legislation around that belief. The process is indeed miraculous and worthy of awe. To make legal issue of that mysterious moment does nothing to further the sanctity of it. Legislation in this case only serves to bring massive judgement and to turn one “life lover” against another.
I confess, the certainty of the people who supported this measure is admirable to me on one level and terrifying on another. I wish I had that kind of certainty around just about anything, to be honest. Life isn’t certain, though. If there is anything I have gleaned from 44 years of wandering around this planet, life is less certainty and more grace. We can only be certain of grace and forgiveness and of loving one another and even those things are bound to hurt us in one way or another along the way.
Initiative 26 isn’t grace. It isn’t forgiveness and it isn’t loving and I’m glad it failed.
That being said, let’s not stop the discussion in our churches and our synagogues, our philosophy and biology classes, our water coolers and our coffee houses. It’s a good discussion, when does life begin and when does it end? They are “book end” questions and they are valuable. We are valuable. The dialogue is necessary, even if we never agree.
Let’s do this pondering though, with the hope of developing a longer lens in our vision of what it means to love one another and how we live that out in practice in between birth and death. That is an initiative I can get behind.