Tuesday

DanaPreaching

Dana, head of Pro Life Mississippi, just got a new headset speaker so she could preach out front of the Women’s Clinic.  She has taken up the job after another member was allegedly arrested for speaking the “word of God”.   She finds the microphone is helpful since the clinic escorts use loud music to drown out the protesters who hound women with pamphlets, bloody photos and shouting “please don’t kill your baby”.

ClinicEscort

A happy clinic escort.  The program just started in January 2013.  Before that the protesters had free reign.  Since the clinic program, protestors have been arrested, property lines have been clearly staked out and the Jackson Police Department makes routine stops to check in.

Bill_Praytoend

This gentleman insisted that people on “his side” had been wrongly arrested repeatedly for preaching “the Bible” on the sidewalk.  Surely, I said, that can’t be right.  It isn’t illegal to read from a book in public?  Then, it became disturbing the peace, the person(s) arrested were arrested for disturbing the peace.  Then, I asked if it might have had (these arrests) something to do with the federal law that bars blocking clinic entrances?  He conceded it might as the person(s) arrested stood in front of the front gate, even though (he actually harrumphed a bit on this) he said, “No one ever uses that gate anyway.”

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Monday

JesusPlate

In front of Rainbow food co-op: “You’ve got a friend in Jesus” Mississippi plate.  I got a “namaste” from the gentle hippie manning the register.

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In front of the Women’s Health Clinic which provides abortions (the last one in the state).  The last time I was in Jackson, the fate of the clinic was in the balance.  Due to de facto TRAP laws, the state was poised to shut this clinic down.  However, an April ruling allowed the clinic to remain open.

There is now an active and effective clinic escort program as well as a response from persons of faith to the anti-abortion protesters who are there every day.

Return to Mississippi, HB999’s first year and ACLU investigates Bryant administration

NOTE:  Scroll to bottom of page for info on the saucy bit about ACLU + Bryant Administration = Investigation of misuse of state/federal funds!

I head back to Mississippi this weekend to wrap this project which began last fall.  I have hoped to shed light on the new sex-ed law, religion and politics in Mississippi through the lens of:

1.  Mississippi has the highest teen birthrate in the nation

2.  Mississippi is the most religious state in the Union

How are these things related?  How do the people – the actual people of Mississippi see the connection (if at all)?  How do the religious beliefs of few people in power impact the lives of the many?  Is teen pregnancy and the cycle of poverty something that can be at least in part addressed through comprehensive, age appropriate sex ed?  How does “abstinence plus” (Mississippi’s term for comprehensive sex education) perform versus “abstinence only until marriage” programs?

I have met lots of people on both side of the sex education divide.  I have spoken with leaders of the community who are staunchly against teaching kids accurate sexual/reproductive health favoring instead abstinence only.  People like Dr. Beverly and Roy Mc Millian who protest the state’s only reproductive health and abortion clinic in Jackson every single day.  Who both told me that abortion and even birth control is murder.  Roy claims to have the ear of Governor Phil Bryant and gave me an official Bryant administration ink pen as proof.

I spoke to Nycole Campbell Lewis, the Governor’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention director, Governor Bryant, members of the Mississippi Department of Health, MS Dept. of Human Services, the heads of the Women’s Fund, and NOW.  Campbell-Lewis backed out of a scheduled interview at the last moment so I was only able to chat with her in passing a couple of times then “officially” via email.

I have spoken to students in Oxford, kids in Jackson, grown women who have shared with me their experience with sex, and sexual education (or lack of it) during their pre-adolescent and teen years.  I have spoken with black women, white women, religious people, pastors, school administrators, and on and on and on.

This return trip to Mississippi will serve to put a cap on my six months of research.  I will also be recording a three-part series in conjunction with Mississippi Public Broadcasting to discuss HB999, religion, race, poverty and politics.  So far these are the three stories I am pursuing for MPB:

1.  Expert panel discussion about the language and meaning of HB999 – many people don’t even know what is in the law and many people may be surprised.  It will also serve as a brief overview of the evolution of HB999 – a bill 20 years in the making.

2.  Race & Religion (in regard to teen pregnancy and birth) – same format – panel discussion with experts about the enduring legacy of racial stereotypes, and entrenched religion as it informs not only public policy making but local tradition, religious expression and what in many cases has turned out to be ritual shaming of pregnant teens and punitive cultural and religious tradition aimed at teen girls.

3.  Talking to teens – teens who went through the first year of “ab plus” and teens who went through “ab-only”

I have the option to do another piece – I am open to suggestions but am considering a photo series/audio slideshow (digging back to my photo days) on teen parents/teen parenting groups (there is one I have heard about in Starkville that sounds promising).

About that ACLU investigation:

Though it wasn’t my goal when I headed to Mississippi to uncover misuse of funds by an uber-religious governor and his administration, it was no surprise when I started noticing money flowing out of state coffer to religious teen pregnancy summits, to anti-gay groups – specifically Truth in Action Ministries, and (possible misuse of) TANF funds going to a crisis pregnancy center in Tupelo to fund ab-only programs.

I look into these things.  Somehow over the years I have carved out a little niche for myself, researching and writing about the misuse of federal funds faith based organizations.  So, naturally, I followed that trail.

A few months ago an ACLU attorney from New York contacted me.  I had interviewed her several years ago about a similar situation where several abstinence programs were misusing our tax dollars to proselytize.

Someone forwarded several of my Mississippi blog posts to her and she just wanted to talk a bit about them.  The ACLU was going to start an investigation.  But, I couldn’t say anything at that point.

Well, now I have been given permission to say this: the ACLU is investigating “this issue”.  Read: the Bryant’s possible misuse of federal funds in at least one instance:  the teen pregnancy summit I attended (link here).  I confirmed that $1500 from the Department of Health was used to secure the space at the Jackson Convention Center.

This is a problem, one that Mississippi continues to have: using state and federal funds for expressly religious purposes.  They were sued a couple of years ago for the same damn thing.

I am not sure the status of the investigation but hope to follow up on several of public records requests I made of the MS Dept. of Health and the MS Dept. of Human Services. Stay tuned!

Jackson Women’s Clinic

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An ever present anti-choice protestor at the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic

The clinic is now officially in violation of the de facto TRAP law.  After applying to numerous hospitals for admission privileges – the result of a law passed to end abortion in Mississippi – and being denied the clinic’s status is in the hands of a judge.  An injunction against the law has kept the clinic open.  The only abortion clinic in Mississippi.

Last week, Mississippi Department of Health made an unannounced visit to the clinic to inspect the facility for compliance.  They have not announced their findings – and we aren’t sure when they will be made available.  But, since it is know – admitted by staff – that they don’t meet the unreasonable construction requirement – the Health Department would be within its rights to close the clinic down.

But, when I was in Mississippi last month, I spoke to a MS Dept. of Health spokesperson who told me they wouldn’t be taking any action against the clinic – unless the federal judge in charge of the injunction ruled.  So what does that mean?  Were they bound by the law to inspect it, but the report could say anything?  It is unclear.  What was clear in my many conversations with the Health Department is that they are not happy with the administration, that they want comprehensive sex education, and access to reproductive healthcare for all women in Mississippi.

One thing we can be sure of is that Mississippi will no longer have access to abortion.  That they will have to leave the state (with what resources?) or carry a child they do not want to carry.  They won’t be able to access inexpensive birth control to prevent pregnancy.  So, Governor Bryant’s pledge to make Mississippi an abortion free state may be a win for the administration.  That’s all that matters – not the women.  Never the women.

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Mississippi HB 151: seizing cord blood of underage mothers without permission. Yep.

UPDATE:  This bill was signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant.  I attended a teen pregnancy prevention task force summit last week and this bill was championed as one of the gov’s signature piece of legislation.  Here is a link to the final language of the bill as sent to the governor.  

I don’t think I have seen anything like this yet (except of course when Mississippi tried it last year).  In the war on women this appears to be a relatively new one.  It attacks women on so many levels it is hard to wrap my head around:

1.  Further criminalizing abortion in a state that is poised to close it last abortion clinic
2.  Shames teen mothers
3.  Teen mom is damned if she does damned if she don’t – there is tissue seizure in both the case of abortion and live birth.  

The paternalistic HB 151 was introduced last week by Mississippi Representative Gipson.  Gipson is also the person who introduced personhood both the first time and now in 2013.

Here is what HB 151 proposes:

Any physician or midwife who delivers a baby of a minor who is under sixteen (16) years of age or performs an abortion on a minor who is less than fourteen (14) years of age at the time of the abortion procedure shall preserve fetal tissue extracted during the abortion in accordance with rules and regulations adopted pursuant to this section if it would be reasonable to suspect that the pregnancy being terminated is the result of a sex crime against a minor or shall preserve umbilical cord blood in order to determine paternity and if it would be reasonable to suspect that the pregnancy resulted from a sex crime against a minor.  It shall be reasonable to suspect that a sex crime against a minor has occurred if the mother of the baby was less than sixteen (16) years of age at the time of conception and the mother of the baby does not name the father of the baby or lists the father of the baby as unknown or the person named as the father of the baby disputes his fatherhood or if the person listed as the father is twenty-one (21) years of age or older or if the person named as the father is deceased.

Please read the full text here.

What part of the Constitution allows for this?  Um, none I imagine.  But since the language of the bill includes talk of sex crimes – when Democrats and thinking Republicans cry foul – the far right can say those who oppose the bill are soft on rape.  This is certainly the tack they will take.

Here’s the thing – if it goes through the Senate, it will likely die because the chairperson is a democrat in the subcommittee.  But, if not…this could have legs.

This is like the bills that Wisconsin tried to introduce last year about abortion coercion.  Who gets to determine what coercion is?  What constitute’s coercion – in one person’s view over another?  Similarly this bill supposes every teen 16 or under was raped or molested and allows for no interpretation.  Across the board this procedure would be done without permission, veiled as in some way protecting teens.

From the law:

(ii)  When a minor who is under sixteen (16) years of age gives birth to an infant, umbilical cord blood shall be collected, if possible, in accordance with rules and regulations adopted pursuant to this section if it would be reasonable to suspect that the minor’s pregnancy resulted from a sex crime against a minor.

(iii)  It shall be reasonable to suspect that a sex crime against a minor has occurred if the mother of an infant was less than sixteen (16) years of age at the time of conception and at least one (1) of the following conditions also applies:

1.  The mother of the infant will not identify the father of the infant;

2.  The mother of the infant lists the father of the infant as unknown;

3.  The person the mother identifies as the father of the infant disputes his fatherhood;

4.  The person the mother identifies as the father of the infant is twenty-one (21) years of age or older; or

5.  The person the mother identifies as the father is deceased.

FEEL LIKE CALLING THE GOVERNOR?  Ask for Mick:  

here is the phone number

601-576-2811

His email is: mick@philbryant.com

 Please, tell him Andy Kopsa from New York City sent you.  

Lt. Gov. wants $7.5mm for guns in school (why not for real sex ed?) and Personhood returns!

JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is proposing a $7.5 million program to help schools hire trained and armed law enforcement officers to work on campus.

Reeves said Friday that the plan is a direct response to last month’s slayings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and he’ll ask lawmakers to approve it this session. Individual schools could apply for $10,000 from the state, and the schools would have to spend at least that much themselves.

Read it here.

And;

Personhood is back!  It was introduced just a few days after the state house went into session.  The war on women isn’t over.  But, the people of Mississippi – the women of MS – are ready.

Here is a PDF of the new “personhood” bill.

Dinner

This has been my longest stay in Mississippi.  I leave Thursday – a full three weeks after I arrived.

Tomorrow night I am hosting a ladies dinner.  There will be a box of wine, a bunch of food* and plenty of conversation.  Open conversation.  Very frank discussion (hopefully) about religion, sex, sexual education and politics in Mississippi.

This discussion can’t eschew the still tender subject of race.  As of now, the crowd seems to be a fair split between black and white.  This is not insignificant.  A common refrain from all those I have talked to in my three weeks here is the black/white divide is still very real.  Very real even among the most like-minded.

 

 

*Among the selection will be pimento cheese sandwiches.  This is a staple; spread over pumpernickel toast.

Mississippi Teen Pregnancy Faith Based Summit: Sales Pitch for Truth in Action Ministries

Update:  MS Dept. Of Human Services returned my call and is going to check on whether or not any DHS money was used for event.  Salvation Army has donated space in the past.  Truth in Action may have provided their own transportation, etc.  However, DHS/MDH do in fact support the Governor’s Healthy Teens for a Better Mississippi program – support seems to vary – whether in-kind (time, collateral materials) or directly.  Will post follow up when find out exactly where money came from.

Video from the publicly funded faith based summit in Jackson, MS.  

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Salvation Army hosted the Healthy Teen faith based summit 

On Tuesday, December 11 I attended a “Faith Based Summit” as part of Governor Bryant’s Healthy Teens for a Better Mississippi initiative (HTBMI).  HTBMI is supported (read: funded in part) by both the Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH – as confirmed by MSDH representative in a previous post) and the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MSDHS) confirmed by Vera Butler at MDHS.  Butler heads the abstinence education grant program for the state which is funded by a Title V block grant.

Although no Title V funds were used for the faith-based gathering, it was supported by public funds.  Butler is tracking down someone within her agency she hopes can tell me how.  She is the coordinator of the program,which means she is in charge of aggregating data and narratives from around the state to fulfill grant requirements and apply for the next round of funding if needed.

This is all a very confusing business.  For those of us who are entrenched in following federal and state funding as well as the layperson.  But for this post, there are only a few things you need to know to proceed.

First is that I have met on two occasions Nycole Campbell-Lewis, PhD LMSW and state coordinator Governor Bryant’s Teem Pregnancy Prevention Department of Human Services.  Our first meeting was at the Governor’s teen pregnancy summit on December 6th.  The second time was at the faith based summit Tuesday.

We made an 11:00 AM appointment for this morning.  She cancelled the meeting after a brief text message exchange about wanting a list of questions prior to our interview.  I told her I didn’t have a list of questions but instead an outline for  a backgrounder meeting.  I also let her know I was interested in discussing funding of the HTBMI overall and specifically the FB gathering.  That is when she cancelled the interview and said I would have to go through the press office.

So, here is what I do know for sure.

Some form of public funds were used for this conference.  Brochures list the MDHS as the contact agency for all things teen pregnancy and summit related.  I know that what I sat through cannot accurately be called a faith-based summit.  “Faith Based” implies “faith” – non-demoninational. In reality the event was a sales pitch by a Christian organization named Truth in Action Ministries (TIA) to dispatch a discipleship program called Community in Action (CIA).  TIA is famous for anti-gay and other short-films that lament the moral decline of America.  For example:

(Click here for TIA‘s take on America’s slide into Nazi-Germany-ism)

Testimonies were given by a handful of men who have successfully implemented TIA/CIA in their respective communities (see the TIA agenda below for names, church affiliation and location of each person speaking at the conference).

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As you can see, Governor Bryant spoke at this conference.  I met him briefly and made small talk.  He told me he had a niece named Andy, with a “y” as well.

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Governor Bryant at the faith based conference right before he went on stage

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