Concerns About Contraception Propelled Defeat of Miss. 'Personhood' Measure

November 10, 2011 — Opposition from female voters and concerns about restricting access to contraception were key factors in the defeat of a Mississippi ballot initiative that would have defined the word "person" as beginning at fertilization, the AP/Washington Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 11/9). The measure, which would have amended the state constitution, was defeated in Tuesday's election by a 16-point margin (Feder, Politico, 11/9).

Although there were no exit polls to determine how women and men voted, women across the state and the country were among the amendment's most vocal opponents, according to the AP/Post. Marty Wiseman, a Mississippi State University political scientist, said that "some women who had never carried a sign or worn a sandwich board were out there against it." Many women in Mississippi who typically oppose abortion rights said they voted against the amendment because it would have outlawed some forms of contraception (AP/Washington Post, 11/9).

Tait Sye, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "Contraception is basic health care and used by virtually all women, and for them to appear to oppose contraception is to appear to oppose mainstream women and ... what women use on a daily basis."

Judy Waxman of the National Women's Law Center said the election results show that opposing contraception is unpopular and a poor political move for the antiabortion-rights movement (Politico, 11/9).

Vague Language Hurt Amendment

Harvard University law professor Glenn Cohen said the amendment failed in part because it was too vague. He predicted that supporters of the so-called "personhood" movement in the future will "carefully tailor the language so it very clearly only covers abortions, not these other things," such as contraception and in vitro fertilization (AP/Washington Post, 11/9).

Mother Jones reports that the amendment failed because of "overreach" beyond the issue of abortion. The opposition was bolstered by grassroots organizations and medical groups that joined forces with more traditional abortion-rights groups, like Planned Parenthood, according to Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.

The Mississippi vote marks the fifth time voters nationwide have rejected all-out bans on abortion, Alex Kolbi-Molina, a staff attorney at ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, noted. "If it wasn't clear before, it should be now, that nobody supports this extremist agenda," she said (Sheppard, Mother Jones, 11/9).

Washington Post Discussions Analyze Election Results

The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff on Wednesday interviewed Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, about why the ballot measure failed and how the antiabortion-rights' movement is reacting (Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 11/9).

The Post on Wednesday also hosted a live online discussion with readers about the election results (Carmon, Washington Post, 11/10).