Miss. Ballot Measure Would Ban Abortion in All Cases

September 28, 2011 — In November, Mississippi voters will consider an amendment to change the meaning of the word "person" in the state constitution so that life legally begins at fertilization, Tim Murphy writes in Mother Jones. He explains, "If the amendment passes, it will outlaw abortion in the state entirely, even in cases of rape or incest," adding that supporters hope "it will launch a court challenge that will end with Roe v. Wade itself being overturned."

Ballot Measure 26 also could affect in vitro fertilization because the procedure usually involves creating more embryos than are implanted, according to Bear Atwood, the legal director for ACLU of Mississippi. Although supporters of the measure say it will not outlaw IVF and that the embryos could be "adopted" or frozen, a recent Jackson Clarion-Ledger editorial noted that freezing embryos could be classified as child abuse under the amendment's current language. Supporters also claim that contraception would not be affected by the amendment, though they have named emergency contraception as one of its targets, according to Murphy.

Murphy explains that the amendment is "in large part the handiwork" of religious activist Les Riley, who is known for his radical ideas and inflammatory rhetoric. This spring, Riley launched a "Conceived in Rape Tour" to support the initiative and "attempt to counter the notion, held even by many pro-lifers, that abortion is acceptable in cases of rape or incest," Murphy writes.

"The movement Riley created in Mississippi is the latest in a parade of efforts over the last year to curtail reproductive rights through radical legislation," Murphy continues. Recent bills in South Dakota and Nebraska would have made it a "justifiable homicide" to kill an abortion provider, and a recent Louisiana bill sought to classify abortion as "feticide."

Meanwhile, abortion-rights supporters in Mississippi "may get some tacit help from an unlikely source: the pro-life movement itself," Murphy writes. The so-called "personhood" movement has led to "a schism among antiabortion activists, with some high-profile leaders arguing that the proposals could be counterproductive," he states. For example, James Bopp, a lawyer who serves as counsel to National Right to Life, said that "significant damage would be done" if a personhood amendment were challenged in federal court (Murphy, Mother Jones, 9/27).