April 01, 2014
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
Dr. Martin Luther King
A year ago, I wrote an email to my pastor advising him of my decision to accept the task of directing the work of the ACLU of Mississippi. On this the anniversary of my first year as the Executive Director, I would like to share excerpts from this personal communication.
As you may know God has placed in me a passion to stand in the gap for others and to extend equality and justice to those less fortunate than some of us. I know that Isaiah 61 is the call God has on my life to minister to the neglected, the informed, and the poor. My gift includes a boldness and fearlessness to give voice to the voiceless and those others just refuse to hear. Like the Lord I love justice. This is what I am anointed to do.
God has opened the door for me to return to my passion. I have been offered and have accepted the position of Executive Director of the Mississippi affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
As I completed law school and prepared to leave MS, the Holy Spirit told me to stay for "there is still work to be done". I did that and was not only successful in my task but as a result of the work God gave me to do significant changes were made in MS's juvenile defense system. All Glory given to the Father. After many years of fighting institutions . . . I grew weary. . . . I am renewed and ready to return to the fight for freedom and justice for all. There is yet still work to be done. I solicit your prayers.
Please know my belief in and reliance on God's word have not wavered. It is God who has brought me this far and it is He who will lead me on. I believe it is God who has brought me to this hour in my life. The ACLU under my direction will tackle many issues which will prayerfully make Mississippi a more even playing ground.
I wanted to discuss this with you because many people forget that the ACLU's mission is to defend the Constitution. This mission which includes voter rights, racial justice, education rights, health care disparities, access to the courts etc. (issues important to the African American community and other disenfranchised populations) is often forgotten when issues such as women's right to make their own health care decisions are overshadowed by abortion debates.
As the ED of ACLU-MS, I will also be the spokesperson for our work. On occasion, however, the position I take may differ from yours. . . . I would ask that you respect that as I extend justice to some I may be asked to extend justice to all.”
I shared this letter not to promote my passion but the commitment shared by the team of social justice professionals that make up the staff of the ACLU of MS. My story is but one example of the conscience decision it takes to do the work we do to bring about positive change. The positions we take are not often not popular or safe but they are necessary as someone must stand in the gap.
The ACLU of MS has assembled a team of guardians who stand ready to defend the Constitution and extend civil liberties to all Mississippians. This year alone we stood in the gap with a child who had been literally left behind by the bus when his school unconstitutionally denied his right to attend school. We stood with a doctoral student when she was racially profiled. We stood with a Sikh truck driver when he was harassed not only by the highway patrol and discriminated against by judge before whom he was compelled to stand. We stood with the LGBT community when they stood at the Capitol to let policy makers know they are here and they count. We will continue to stand in defense to equal access to the voting booth. We will stand with women to ensure their right to make personal health care decision. We will continue to stand in protection of children against the funneling of the school to prison pipeline.
I start my second year knowing and more importantly wanting you to know that the ACLU of Mississippi will stand with you.
March 05, 2014
We spoke out earlier in the legislative session about some bad and some good bills. Now those bills have moved forward and are up for a vote in either the House or the Senate. Here’s an update on some of those bills and an opportunity to take action.
- Remember HB 49, the bill that would require drug testing for TANF recipients? That bill is still alive and likely to be voted on in the Senate.
Contact members of the Senate and tell them to oppose HB 49 and not to take away important resources for Mississippi’s neediest families!
- The Mississippi Student Safety Act is a bill that we want to move forward! SB 2594, is a bill designed to keep students safe by limiting the use of seclusion and restraint on students.
This act will ensure the safety of students in school and promote a positive culture and climate which has been shown to lead to greater academic achievement. A high percentage of students who have been restrained are not exhibiting behavior that would warrant those interventions and the students that are often affected by restraint and seclusion were young students with disabilities, often with no verbal means of communication.
Contact members of the House and tell them to protect our students and pass this bill!
- HB 765 and SB 2325, are disingenuous bills that would not accomplish what the title says they would do. They are both called the “Equal Opportunity for All Students with Special Needs Act,” but do not create equal opportunity for students with special needs. The act restricts the academic programs offered to children with special needs. They violate a child's right to equal protection and discriminate against children with special needs attempting to exclude them from the civil right to education in public schools.
Contact your representative in both the House and the Senate and tell them that this act does not create equal opportunity for students with special needs and does the opposite.
- SB 2430, is a bill to require DNA collection from individuals arrested for a certain crime.
This bill violates equal protection, takes away right to privacy and could exacerbate racial disparities in our criminal justice system. We are innocent until proven guilty and innocent people don’t belong in a criminal database.
DNA collection, analysis and retention is expensive. Given the current economic conditions, storing genetic samples of individuals who have not and may not ever be convicted of a crime may not be a good use of resources.
Contact members of the House and tell them to oppose SB 2430 and protect the right to privacy given in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution!
For a full list of the 20 bills we are monitoring, please visit the legislative section in each of our Centers of Focus.
February 12, 2014
Mississippi Legislators are once again playing politics with women’ lives and intruding into women’s private, medical decisions. Presuming that they know better than a woman and her doctor, legislators are considering a new ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
Every pregnancy is different and we cannot know all the circumstances surrounding a personal, medical decision to have an abortion. What we do know, is that women’s health and well-being should be supported and valued.
Two years ago the legislature and Governor Bryant took aim at the state’s only abortion provider and passed a bill requiring that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Although they claimed – wrongly - that the bill would protect women’s health, they were clear that their purpose was to end abortion in Mississippi. The Jackson Women’s Health Clinic took the state to court and has been granted permission to operate pending the outcome of the litigation.
Mississippi is not the first state to consider a 20 week abortion ban. South Carolina is considering a ban and the Arkansas Legislature approved a measure banning most abortions at 12 weeks and another banning most abortions at 20 weeks. Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed both bills, saying they were unconstitutional, but lawmakers overturned both vetoes in bipartisan votes. The Arkansas ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the 12 week ban. Texas and Arizona have also passed 20 week abortion bans. The Arizona law was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in January the Supreme Court refuse to hear the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit decision in place.
Mississippi’s bill, HB 1400, trivializes women’s health and well-being by creating a cookie cutter approach to women’s healthcare and ignoring individual circumstances of Mississippi women and families. Imagine a woman who is happily planning for a new addition to her family and develops complications. Instead of being able to make the best decision for herself and her family, HB 1400 would force her to make the decision that legislators in Jackson choose; a decision that does not take her personal circumstances into consideration, a decision that requires her doctor to practice medicine based on politics, not best medical practices.
Women in Mississippi face new challenges to access safe legal abortion every year. We must stand firm; just because legislators don’t like the decision a woman might make, they cannot deny women access to basic constitutionally protected health care and the ability to work with her doctor to make the best decision, based on her own individual circumstances.
Mississippi already has some of the most restrictive laws in the country. It is time for our legislature and Governor to start putting women’s healthcare first and take positive measures to ensure every Mississippian has access to quality healthcare. If they really care about women’s health they should be working to expand Medicaid and implementing comprehensive medically accurate sex education programs in our schools. It is time to stop playing politics with women’s lives.
January 22, 2014
The Mississippi Legislature started its 129th Session on January 7th, 2014. The legislative session has garnered attention as Mississippi legislators launched an agenda geared towards “Public Safety.” This year, the Democratic Legislative Caucus’ agenda discusses healthcare, education, state employee benefits, as well as roads and bridges. Republican legislators have promoted an agenda that attacks a range of issues from reproductive freedom to public benefit opportunities.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (ACLU- MS) is monitoring legislation that falls within our four centers of focus: criminal justice reform, youth justice reform, equality for all Mississippians, and freedom of speech and expression. We will take an active stance against any legislation that infringes on reproductive freedom, freedom of speech, and access to equal opportunity. The ACLU-MS will actively support Medicaid expansion, immigration reform, and legislation aimed at reducing the number of our children who find themselves in the School-to-Prison pipeline.
In the House, Rep. Mims introduced H.B. 49 which would require the drug testing of persons who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This bill was referred to the Public Health Committee and passed to the House floor on a vote, along party lines, of 74-46. This legislation unfairly targets Mississippi's poorest and neediest citizens. It is inefficient as it will only affect a small group of people and will cost the state a large amount of money. The ACLU-MS is working to actively defeat this bill as it heads to the Senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee chaired by Senator Kirby.
Also in the House, Mims introduced H.B. 29 which requires a prescription to dispense emergency contraceptive to persons under 18 years old. We are actively opposing this unnecessary legislation. H.B 29 was referred to the Public Health Committee. This bill infringes on reproductive freedom. Young people in Mississippi deserve the same reproductive health care as all others living in the United States. The ACLU-MS Mississippi will take a stand to defeat these arbitrary barriers on safe and effective birth control.
In the Senate, the ACLU- MS is monitoring a wide range of legislation. We will actively oppose S.B. 2304 introduced by Sen. Tollison which will require the designation of certain disabilities on drivers licenses and identification cards under certain circumstances. This bill also requires training for law enforcement officers to recognize certain medical conditions.
As always, the ACLU-MS will continue to keep you informed of our efforts, as things unfold over the weeks to come of the 2014 Legislative Session as we work to protect civil liberties for all Mississippians.
Please take action and stand with the ACLU of Mississippi.
Joi L. Owens
ACLU of Mississippi
November 10, 2011
Posted by Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, Reproductive Freedom Project
The people have spoken: Twice in South Dakota; twice in Colorado and now in Mississippi. Red state, blue state — it doesn’t make a difference. The message to government is clear: Women’s lives matter. Respect for women, respect for their decisions about their health and families, respect for their basic rights, matters. So keep out of our bedrooms, our doctors’ offices, and our personal lives and do your @##@$*#& job already.
In case you missed it, the people of Mississippi voted yesterday to reject a so-called “personhood” amendment that would have criminalized all abortions without exception, including treatment for ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage, as well as some of the most common forms of birth control. No one believed they could do it and we owe this landmark victory--and a huge debt of gratitude--to the people of Mississippi who fought tirelessly and against all odds to defeat this extreme and dangerous initiative. Mississippi, reputed to be the most conservative state in the nation, now joins South Dakota (which has twice voted to reject abortion bans) and Colorado (which has twice voted to reject a “personhood” amendment) in saying enough is enough—stop playing politics with women’s lives.
Indeed, while this is a huge win for Mississippi, the effects of their victory will and should be felt nationwide. This past year saw an unprecedented legislative attack on the reproductive rights and health of women and families around the country. We saw bans on insurance coverage for abortion; laws that tried to strip any and all public funding from organizations that provide, or even talk about, abortions; and a law that would require any woman seeking an abortion to visit a crisis pregnancy center to be lectured by anti-abortion activists about why her decision is wrong. If anything, the vote in Mississippi tells us there is a huge disconnect between these politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. Yesterday’s vote should make it crystal clear that the American people do not support this extremist, anti-woman, anti-family agenda. The American people trust women, and it’s about time their elected representatives do so, as well.
November 02, 2011
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour said on Nov. 2 he's concerned about Initiative 26, an extreme measure that could have unintended consequences.
"I believe life begins at conception. Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn't say that," Barbour said on MSNBC. "That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning."
Barbour also made comments to Fox News and local media. For the full story, read here.
October 14, 2011
Oct. 18 Community Forum and Discussion
American Association of University Women, Cleveland Branch
Delta State University Alumni House in Cleveland, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Oct. 19 Save The Pill Rally!
Oxford Courthouse Lawn, 5 p.m.
Oct. 20 Forum on Initiative 26 and Initiative 27
Sponsored by the Biloxi Branch of the NAACP
Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi, 6 p.m.
Oct. 20 Election Forum
Tougaloo College Pre-Law Society, 6 p.m.
500 West County Line Road
Tougaloo, MS 39174
Oct. 25 Personhood and You: Implications of Initiative #26
Barnard Observatory, 7 p.m.
Student Union Dr. and North Lane, adjacent to the Grove in Oxford
Oct. 25 Amendment 26: Exploring the Implications of MS's Personhood Initiative
Mississippi College School of Law, 6 p.m .
151 E. Griffith St., Jackson
Oct. 31 Ballot Initiatives Town Hall
New Hope Baptist Church in Greenville, 6 p.m.
Nov. 1 Vote No To Amendment 26 Dance In!
Drill Field @ Mississippi State University
Starkville, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 1 Community Forum on the Legal Consequences of Proposition 26
The University of Mississippi School of Law, Room 1078 at 5 p.m.
Nov. 3 Ballot Initiatives Town Hall
Mound Bayou Community Facilities Building in Mound Bayou, 6 p.m.
For more information about the events, contact Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, 601 354-3408. None is sponsored by the ACLU of Mississippi.
September 30, 2011
Oct. 13, 2011
A townhall meeting was held at Jackson State University to discuss Initiative 26. More than 150 came out as ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Nsombi Lambright and others talked about the dangers the proposed constitutional amendment would have on women and families if it is passed on Nov. 8.
The initiative, which attempts to give legal rights to fertilized eggs, would ban some commonly used forms of birth control, in vitro-fertilization and abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. The measure has been publicly opposed by medical associations and other organizations. Lambright explained to the gathering that the initiative would allow government intrusion in decisions that should be made by women and their families.
The implications of the measure are serious. The initiative would force women whose lives are at risk to carry a pregnancy to term or risk criminal charges. The threat of criminal charges also would loom over doctors who must consider whether to perform life-saving treatments on women. Lambright urged participants to educate others about the perils of Initiative 26, and to vote "No" on Election Day.
The event was sponsored by the Jackson State University School of Social Work.
September 30, 2011
By Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh
I have worked to protect the rights of women across the country for nearly 20 years. As an organizer for a national women’s rights organization, I traveled around the country working beside activists to prevent anti-abortion extremists from shutting down abortion clinics with their rhetoric, their bodies, and sometimes their bullets.
I have been outside hundreds of clinics watching extremists spew hate and judgment on women and their families entering these facilities while holding a Bible to justify it. I have seen parents with up to a dozen children ranging from newborn to teens standing in 100-plus degree weather for eight hours holding signs (that most of them couldn’t even read or understand) in an attempt to intimidate or shame women from getting an abortion. I have worked with federal, state, and local law enforcement in an effort just to get existing laws enforced at clinics which are legal businesses and more importantly – healthcare facilities. I have taught doctors, nurses, and receptionists how to protect themselves and their children from harassment in their homes, in their children’s schools, and at the healthcare facilities.
In all these years of working tirelessly with loving caring human beings who risk their lives every day to provide safe, legal, and sometimes medically necessary healthcare to women – nothing would stop the bullet that killed my friend and someone I admired – Dr. George Tiller. He was killed while attending service at his church.
Today, we are seeing a different kind of “bullet” aimed at the heart of women. This past legislative session was frightening for those of us who fight to defend the dignity of women across this country. We are still making 77 cents for every dollar a man makes and we face assaults on our fundamental rights to control our own bodies. We watch legislators in our states and in DC spew vitriol about us in an attempt to legislate our womb and our ability to access services. While the men hold these great debates about us, we are getting breakfast for our kids, heading off to our second job, meeting with our children’s teachers, and caring for our aging parents while trying to scrape up enough money for the rent that is due in a few days.
Mississippi extremists want to take away the right to abortion and birth control by passing the “so called” Personhood Ballot Initiative #26. It is dangerous and is an all out assault on women and their families. If passed, this amendment would not only ban abortion but also birth control and many assisted reproductive healthcare procedures which include in-vitro fertilization. The initiative will insert government control over our wombs, our ability to choose when and how many children we have, and we will be criminally investigated when we have a miscarriage.
I still have nightmares about my friend being murdered. I see the bullet exit the weapon in slow motion and I dream that I put my hand up and stop it. Initiative #26 is a bullet. The bullet is moving slowly through the air in Mississippi. This time, I am putting my whole body up to stop it. Will you?
Don’t allow this initiative to pass. Individuals across the state are banding together and getting out there to educate voters on the broad and sweeping implications of Initiative #26 if passed. Organizations are educating their members and mobilizing to the streets. Even if you oppose abortion, this “bullet” will explode into a million pieces and it WILL hit you too. Get out there and talk to your friends, family, church, and civic organizations. Make a case for stopping the bullet. On November 8, use your hand to stop the bullet and vote NO on Initiative #26. If you sleep in on November 8, you might just wake up to a nightmare.
September 15, 2011
The Mississippi Supreme Court refused Sept. 8 to prevent proposed Initiative Measure Number 26 from being placed on the November 2011 ballot. The initiative attempts to redefine the term “person” in the Mississippi Bill of Rights to apply at the moment of fertilization. The court did not rule on the constitutionality of the initiative, but instead said that it would not rule on any proposed measure before the election.
The initiative was challenged by a Mississippicitizen because it failed to comply with the ballot initiative process as set forth in the Mississippi Constitution, which forbids making modifications to the Bill of Rights.
“We're disappointed with the ruling,” said Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “A measure will be on the ballot that will allow the government to dictate what is a private matter that's best decided by a woman, her family and within the context of her faith.Mississippivoters should reject this intrusive and dangerous measure.”
“This initiative is extreme and could severely undermine women's access to birth control, in vitro fertilization and life-saving medical procedures,” said Bear Atwood, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “This measure is harmful to women and has no place on the ballot.”
“It is unfortunate the court decided it could not review the initiative at this point in time, but the Mississippi Constitution is clear -- you cannot make any changes to the Bill of Rights through the initiative process,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
“As a lifelong Mississippian, I am disappointed that this broad and intrusive measure has been allowed on the ballot,” said Cristen Hemmins, plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the initiative. “I call on all voters to vote ‘no' on #26. The government should not be interfering with the personal and private health care decisions of Mississippi families.”