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OPINION: Jay Hughes and the Apostasy of ‘White Democrats’ in Mississippi

"Nine Democrats joined all but one Republican in voting to take away women's right to their own bodies. Eight of them were white; all were male. One of them, Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, is running for lieutenant governor. His vote was murderous; his explanation was worse." photo courtesy Jay Hughes

"Nine Democrats joined all but one Republican in voting to take away women's right to their own bodies. Eight of them were white; all were male. One of them, Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, is running for lieutenant governor. His vote was murderous; his explanation was worse." photo courtesy Jay Hughes

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Jaz Brisack Photo by Christian Johnson for The Daily Mississippian

Mississippi leads the nation in Google searches for instructions on how to self-abort. The state, which has the highest infant mortality rate and an above-average maternal mortality rate (tragedies that disproportionately affect black mothers and children) is also the hardest state in which to obtain an abortion. As a result, desperate women resort to dangerous methods.

Not content with the number of obstacles currently in a pregnant woman's path to accessing safe abortion care, our state government has continued its efforts to erode Roe v. Wade. Gov. Phil Bryant has repeatedly said that he wants “Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child”—even, apparently, if that entails making Mississippi the least safe place for mothers and born children.

The state Legislature passed a so-called “heartbeat” abortion ban, which would ban the procedure before most women even know they're pregnant. Aware that the bill was about to pass, Jarvis Dortch, D-Jackson, introduced an amendment that would exempt pregnancies resulting from rape or incest from the ban. His amendment failed, and the bill passed.

Nine Democrats joined all but one Republican in voting to take away women's right to their own bodies. Eight of them were white; all were male. One of them, Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, is running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. His vote was murderous; his explanation was worse.

“The Mississippi House has just 10 white Democrats remaining, in a body of 122 members. Eight of us are moderates and trying to avoid the Republican goal of eliminating all white (Democrats), so it will fit the claim that you can't be white and be a Democrat in Mississippi,” he said.

White supremacy and anti-choice politics go together. Just ask Sen Cindy Hyde-Smith and Gov. Phil Bryant, who accused black women of committing genocide by having abortion, in an effort to deflect from the violence of Hyde-Smith's public hanging comments. Hughes is not alone, but he's in bad company.

This is true especially given that Nick Bain, one of Hughes' “eight moderate Democrats,” defected to the Republican Party the day after the legislative filing deadline, ensuring that he won't face a Democratic challenger in this year's election. Bain, from Corinth, cited his “conservative ... voting record concerning Second Amendment rights and social issues like protecting the sanctity of life and family values” as grounds for his apostasy.

When Mississippi voters rejected the proposed “personhood” amendment to the state constitution in 2011, they upheld women's right to choose. It's time politicians felt accountable to their constituents, rather than taking our votes for granted or believing that the dearth of progressive options in this state holds voters hostage. Hughes has stated that Democratic voters have no choice other than to vote for him. Nearly all of his responses have boiled down to a “But Delbert” argument.

White Democrats in Mississippi have proven time and time again that not only will they betray Democratic principles when such principles become inconvenient, but they will also flip parties to preserve power. Mississippi politics is replete with Democrats-turned-Republicans, from sheriffs, supervisors and state senators to U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Therefore, the question is not will Jay Hughes and his fellow white Democrats flip if it becomes convenient, but when they will. Hughes has made clear his willingness to sacrifice women's lives to win the lieutenant governorship, and then had the audacity to tell voters to “take the long view” and resign themselves to his traitorous conduct.

In the meantime, how many Mississippi women will die of botched abortions?

Jaz Brisack is a labor organizer, abortion clinic defender, and the University of Mississippi's first female Rhodes Scholar.


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