Yes on 26 Campaign Director Brad Prewitt is an unassuming man. The 36-year-old with boyish features looked a bit uncomfortable wearing a suit and tie during the campaign's "Festival of Life" at New Horizon Church in Jackson Sept. 28.
Although he is a proponent of ending abortions in Mississippi and beyond, Prewitt is tasked with setting himself apart from his predecessor, Les Riley, who led efforts to obtain more than 130,000 signatures to put a measure on the Mississippi ballot to redefine the word person in the state Constitution. Riley, a trailer salesman from Pontotoc, founded Personhood Mississippi, part of a larger national movement called Personhood U.S.A. He is controversial as a former member of the neo-Confederate League of the South and as the current head of the state's secessionist Constitution Party. He also promoted a "Conceived in Rape Tour."
Now Prewitt, of Tupelo, is trying to gain support from black congregations to amend the state Constitution to redefine "person" to include any "human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."
Most days, Prewitt, who is white, works at his campaign office in Tupelo, where a poster of Mississippi blues legend Robert Johnson hangs on his wall. But lately he has been taking trips to Jackson and other areas of the state trying to gain votes from black churches and communities. Prewitt likes to compare his movement to the civil-rights struggle by using the message that abortions equate to "black genocide" for the African American community. "This issue is offering a real point of catharsis on civil rights," he said.
"We have whites and blacks standing together talking about the unborn."
No Fetus Photos
Prewitt, who once worked as an aide for Sen. Thad Cochran, doesn't believe showing pictures of abortion procedures or fetuses with missing limbs is the way to convince voters that abortion is wrong. Instead he calls Yes on 26 a "life-affirming campaign."
"A lot of women have had abortions, and we don't want to be insensitive to those women. We don't want to throw them into psychological depression. We want to show grace to people. The grace that you have been shown, you have to show to others," he said in September.
A woman who has had an abortion may have disagreed with Prewitt's sensitivity at the "Festival of Life." The event steered clear of discussing unintended consequences the initiative may cause such as outlawing birth control or in-vitro fertilization.
The festival started with a screening of "Maafa 21: Black Genocide in 21st Century America," a documentary comparing abortion to eugenics—a movement to "improve" the human race with forced sterilization—as an attempt to eliminate the black race. It showed photos of Germany's Adolf Hitler and his attempts to eliminate all races other than the Aryan "master" race as well as photos of the Ku Klux Klan. Abortion, the documentary states, is a tactic to wipe out the black population.
Later that night, the festival held a 30-minute worship session before bringing on a series of speakers who called for support of the Personhood Initiative. They included 36-year-old Lorenzo Neal, a pastor at New Bethlehem A.M.E. in Jackson; civil-rights veteran John Perkins, founder of the John Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation; Joseph Parker of the American Family Association; campaign organizer Stacia Hunter, who was conceived in rape; and Dr. Freda Bush of East Lakeland OBGYN, who used to work in an abortion clinic but is now a fierce opponent of abortion.
The event included a barrage of music videos and film clips. Up first was a music video of rapper Nick Cannon's "Can I Live." It showed a pregnant woman at an abortion clinic walking through throngs of screaming protesters on the way to the clinic. She appeared riddled with guilt and fear as she decided if she should abort her child.
As doctors prepared her for surgery, a full-size baby appeared on a sonogram monitor, and the woman ran out of the clinic before the procedure could take place. Another video showcased the views of opponents who spoke at a public hearing about the initiative—categorized as godless individuals who do not respect the sanctity of life.
Parker declared with certainty that all women regret their abortions, even though studies show that the majority of women who receive abortions say they feel relief afterward, the Guttmacher Institute reported in 2006 in "Abortion in Women's Lives."
"I have never run into a woman who says, you know, I'm glad I had that abortion," Parker said. "But I can point you to hundreds of women who are dealing with depression, nightmares and hear babies in the night."
Andrew Overton and his wife, Gladys, a mixed-race couple, thought they were attending a regular Wednesday night church service Sept. 28 and were surprised to find that it was a political event. They decided to leave after a few minutes of listening to the speakers. The couple said they are both against abortion but have concerns about the Personhood Initiative. They have questions about what it would mean for couples trying to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization.
"It's kind of the right idea, but it's the wrong wording," Andrew Overton said. "They are playing on passions, but when it comes to something like that, you have to think logically."
Although the majority of speakers at the event were men, Prewitt and Parker claimed that Yes on 26 is a diverse campaign. Yet, out of seven staff members listed on the campaign's website, only one is a woman. The lack of females on staff seems to be a touchy subject for Prewitt, who defends the campaign's staffing.
"We have volunteers that are women," he said. "You hire the people who can do the job. Fieldwork is hard work, because you are on the road all the time. Our women are engaged. We are not some male-dominated organization. If I could be a woman to answer your question better, I would, but God made me a male, so there you go. More women are aborted every year than men, by the way. So we are very much for the women who are aborted."
Shades of Falwell
The campaign's donors are unknown because it is listed as a nonprofit and has not yet submitted tax filings to the IRS; however, it has support from the Tupelo-based American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group because of its campaigns against homosexuals. The campaign also has legal support from the Liberty Counsel law firm, partner of Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Falwell coined the term "moral majority" in 1979, and was the center of numerous controversies. He said publicly, for example, that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were God's punishment for the ACLU, abortion providers and gay-rights activists. The Liberty Counsel is also a hate group, according to the SPLC, because of its anti-gay activism.
In September, Yes on 26 created a website to attack Mississippians for Healthy Families, a political action committee working against the Personhood measure. Yes on 26 used the site, with an address that sounded like the No on 26 group, to call out Mississippians for Healthy Families' officers Nsombi Lambright of the ACLU and Kay Scott of Planned Parenthood and their positions on abortion rights.
"Mississippians for Healthy Families is nothing but a front for the ACLU," the website states—an ironic smear, considering that the ACLU has fought long and hard for the rights of African Americans in the state.
Walk past the Women's Health Organization—the state's only abortion clinic—on the corner of Fondren and State streets any weekday morning, and you'll likely see protesters with signs calling abortion "black genocide."
Their black genocide argument is rooted in the history of the United States' eugenics movement, in which African American women were victims of forced sterilization, including right here in Jackson.
Between 1907 and 1963, states forcibly sterilized more than 64,000 people. From 1933 to 1983 Mississippi forcibly sterilized 683 individuals under a state law that called for sterilization of "persons who are afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy."
The documentary "Maafa 21" unveils the history of the eugenics movement, focusing on Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. The film depicts her work as an attempt to wipe out the black population through forced sterilization to promulgate the white race, and it ties her to the Ku Klux Klan and Adolf Hitler.
While Sanger was a part of the eugenics movement—it appealed to so-called progressives and conservatives alike—her family says that her work as been mischaracterized, and she has been misquoted throughout history. In 1939, Sanger founded the Negro Project, a birth-control campaign for southern blacks. In the documentary, Sanger teams up with the Birth Control Federation of America—an organization run mostly by white men. By the time the organization changed its name to Planned Parenthood in 1942, Sanger was only loosely involved with the organization, states the Margaret Sanger Papers website, a history project of New York University.
"While she did not advocate efforts to limit population growth solely on the basis of class, ethnicity or race, and refused to encourage positive race-based eugenics, Sanger's reputation was permanently tainted by her association with the reactionary wing of the eugenics movement," the website states.
Perkins told the audience of about 40 on Sept. 28 that it is strange to see so much outrage when whites kill blacks, yet there is little outrage for the number of aborted black babies. "How did we come this place in America as black people and white people to where we so devalue life?" he asked.
The abortion-as-eugenics strategy isn't new. Last year, Georgia Right to Life, a anti-abortion group based in Atlanta, placed 65 billboards around Atlanta with a picture of a black infant and the words: "Black Children are an Endangered Species."
'Unbought and Unbossed'
The film and "Yes on 26" campaign argues that blacks are having abortions at higher rates than whites. Dr. Freda Bush said that abortions threaten the African American population, and while the U.S. black population isn't declining yet, she said fertility rates for blacks have decreased. The Guttmacher Institute reported that blacks experienced the largest decline in abortion rates over other groups (18 percent) from 2000 to 2008.
Abortions for blacks are still higher than other ethnic groups at 40.2 abortions per 1,000 women compared to 11.5 abortions per 1,000 white women, Guttmacher reported.
Black women may also be more likely to fall prey to "butcher abortions"—the unsafe form of abortions that poor women without access to safe and legal abortions often choose. (Studies show that wealthier women and the men who impregnate them can afford travel to places where abortions are legal, and have long and quietly had abortion procedures performed in the privacy of their doctor's offices.)
Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968, became a proponent for abortion rights. In her autobiography, "Unbought and Unbossed" (Houghton Mifflin, 1970), she writes that after discovering black and poor women were disproportionately harmed when they had illegal abortions, she wanted to make abortions safer—even though it was a politically risky stance.
Chisholm cited a study by Edwin M. Gold showing that illegal abortions were the cause of death in 49 percent of blacks obtaining the procedure from 1960 to 1962, compared to 25 percent in white cases.
"Which is more like black genocide, I ask my brothers—this, the way things are, or the conditions that I am fighting for in which the full range of family planning services is freely available to all women and classes of color, starting with effective contraception, and extending to safe, legal termination of unwanted pregnancies at a price they can afford?" Chisholm wrote.
Tiyi Morris, former Jacksonian and professor of African American studies at Ohio State University, agrees with Chisholm. She said forced sterilization—which offered no choice to the woman being sterilized—isn't the same as a woman having the option of choosing whether to abort a fetus.
"I understand the genocide argument, but for me, women have to control what happens to their own bodies," Morris told the JFP. "And there is a difference between women having the option for abortion and someone forcing you to be sterilized, and those are two completely separate things."
"I think the black genocide argument might be playing on fear and class issues," Morris added. "... I think the legacy of the eugenics movement has caused a sense of mistrust by blacks with the medical community, and I think vestiges of that get passed on."
It's the last few days of the campaign, and Prewitt and Sanders are tired. They have been on the road for campaign events and fielding media calls. When asked to expand on his take of the black genocide argument and how his campaign is working with Personhood USA, the national organization that has pushed for similar failed initiatives, Prewitt is tightlipped.
"The Personhood U.S.A movement is equivalent to the Democratic National Committee in how they work in state races," Prewitt said. "There is nothing extraordinary about their engagement. It happens in political policies all around the world."
In 2008, Colorado became the first state to have a similar initiative on the ballot. It failed with only 27 percent of Coloradans voting in favor, and failed again in 2010. Personhood U.S.A. led the efforts to collect the signatures in Mississippi to get Personhood on the ballot, but this summer, "Yes on 26" took over the efforts to get the initiative passed.
The goal of anti-abortion groups is to end abortion in Mississippi and, eventually, to get the U.S Supreme Court to overturn Roe. v. Wade, the 1973 case that gave women the right to choose whether to carry an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy to term.
Jackson resident Beverly McMillan became an abortion provider after the Supreme Court ruling. In the late 1960s, she provided medical care to women who had illegal, unsafe abortions by pushing foreign objects into their cervixes to fake a miscarriage. After experiencing a religious conversion, McMillan stopped performing abortions in 1978 and is currently the president of Pro-Life Mississippi.
If the initiative bans abortions in Mississippi, McMillan doesn't think illegal, back-alley abortions will be much of an issue.
"I don't think it will be any worse that it was in 1969," she said. "In fact, if a women sought an illegal abortion, she would be less likely to be harmed now that she would in 1969. The reason is that illegal abortionists will have access to suction machines, and that will be a much safer approach then the back-alley approach in 1969."
During the Oct. 31 press conference, Prewitt and his staff called Mississippians for Healthy Families a front for Planned Parenthood and an "out-of-state" group. But when pressed about his own out-of-state funding, Prewitt reversed, saying it wasn't the fact that out-of-state groups were funding the opposition, but that it was abortion clinics. "It's easy for the other side to dismiss this as a bunch of trivial crud," Prewitt said Sept. 27.
"This is real stuff. This is a deep movement that has a lot of substance to it.
"I think if you participated in it, you'd at least see that this isn't standard politics. It's not this GOP front. The standard GOP donors haven't given any money to this," Prewitt said. "Though you know I've love for them to."
Great article. It is a shame that the politicos in our state will not step forward and explain how damaging this legistlation could potentially be. It surprises me that with so many Council of Conservative Citizens floating around this state (90% of all whites according to one Jackson weekly), more would not jump on the population control bandwagon and seek a paler future.
How many more times must this be referenced before people get the picture? There is no link between a weak economy and crime. Unwanted children? Yes. If these NEJxn scardey-cats wanna sleep tonight, or in 16-25 years, they'd reconsider their position*.
*according to the perceived notions of how they think.
Also, why is so much emphasis placed on how the SPLC categorizes controversial groups? At what point did journalists go, "Hey, we should check out the SPLC webpage and see what they arbitrarily decided to judge today."? According to the SPLC, you are now considered a "hate group." OH, OKAY. IT IS OFFICIAL. YOU ARE NOW A HATE GROUP. CASE CLOSED. NO MORE DISCUSSION. THE TRIBUNAL HAS SPOKEN.
It is kinda like how all MS-based newspapers decided Matt Steffey was the go-to guy for legal commentary. Yeah, ask the guy who doesn't actually practice law.
The FBI recently classified "Juggalos" as a loosely-organized gang. If the FBI thinks a bunch of face-painted overweight midwesterners tweaking out on poppers are potentially dangerous, I'd love to know how the inpenetrable, almighty SPLC would rate them.
Professor Breland... (or should I say *Colonel* Breland...)
I'm starting to see a pattern here... you seem to think that *snark* trumps *evidence* when you're making your hand-waving, hyperbolic claims.
Do you have some evidence that the SPLC is unreliable when it comes to hate groups? That would be interesting to learn, particularly if it's something of substance. I’m certainly not saying it's impossible... just wondering if that's interesting to you?
Do you have further evidence that a simple pronouncement by SPLC -- arbitrarily taken, according to your assessment -- leads directly to a situation where discussion in no longer allowed?
SPLC happens to be an organization that studies and follows hate groups in this country in order that... someone does, providing a check against (and resource for) law enforcement, media and other groups who are also the business in checking in on things.
Often experts are cited for their expertise. Expertise is generally gained from studying a topic carefully. Even *attorneys* occasionally consult experts... have you heard?
- Todd Stauffer
Hate groups think SPLC is unreliable. So they must be. *snark off*
Survey some local attorneys and ask them how they feel about the "expertise" of Prof. Steffey.
I don't recall indicating the SPLC was unreliable. I do recall asking "Also, why is so much emphasis placed on how the SPLC categorizes controversial groups?" Exact words.
Several publications look to them for guidance. Just wondering if the media hears about a formidable group of hoodlums-we'll take Juggalos and Juggalettes for example- and then pose the burning question, "Are they a hate group?"
"I don't know, we better contact the SLPC."
And for the record, "snark" is turned to zero when I question why CCC Col. Barbours would vote yes on 26. If your hate group takes a Yes on 26 stance, Dees should immediately demote your clan to "Strongly Dislike Group".
Several publications look to them for guidance.
Yes. Odd, that. Especially considering SPLC studies hate groups and reports on them. How those publications make the connection really is a head-scratcher.
- Todd Stauffer