November 9, 2011 — More than 55% of Mississippi voters on Tuesday opposed a ballot initiative that would have amended the state constitution to define the word "person" as beginning at the moment of fertilization, the AP/Washington Post reports. If the so-called "personhood" amendment had been approved, it was expected to generate a court challenge that would have tested the foundation of Roe v. Wade (AP/Washington Post, 11/8).
The amendment would have outlawed abortion, including in cases of rape, incest or threats to the woman's life. Advocates on both sides said it also could have had farther-reaching consequences. Opponents warned that the initiative could be interpreted to ban certain forms of birth control, restrict in vitro fertilization and outlaw embryonic stem cell research. It also could make it impossible for doctors to treat women with potentially life-threatening ectopic pregnancies without violating the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/8).
The result of Tuesday's vote was "somewhat unexpected," especially because recent polling data suggested that the initiative was likely to pass, NPR's "Morning Edition" reports. Similar amendments were heavily defeated in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, but supporters had hoped Mississippi's large base of conservative, religious voters would be more receptive.
Felicia Brown Williams -- outreach director for Mississippians for Healthy Families, a group that opposed the amendment -- said, "I think it was just a matter of making sure that the voters were informed," adding, "And when they were, they came to our side" (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 11/9).
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "The message from Mississippi is clear," adding, "An amendment that allows politicians to further interfere in our personal, private medical decisions, including a woman's right to choose safe, legal abortion, is unacceptable" (Seelye, New York Times, 11/8). Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called personhood initiatives an "extreme, dangerous and direct assault" on abortion rights.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America issued a statement saying that Mississippi voters rejected the amendment "because they understood it is government gone too far and would have allowed government to have control over personal decisions that should be left up to a woman, her family, her doctor and her faith" (Wagster Pettus, AP/Miami Herald, 11/8).
According to the AP/Post, the amendment sparked debate within the medical and religious communities and divided abortion-rights opponents, some of whom disagreed with the personhood strategy as a means of outlawing abortion. Some abortion-rights opponents felt the amendment was too ambiguous and expressed reservations about its potential effects on birth control, IVF and life-saving treatments for pregnant women (AP/Washington Post, 11/8).
Keith Mason, co-founder of Personhood USA, the group that authored the amendment, said the organization will push similar initiatives in California, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Ohio and Oregon next year. Mason also said the group might try again to pass the initiative in Mississippi (AP/Miami Herald, 11/8).