Is This The End of Personhood?

Mississippi State Capitol

Tuesday, November 8 marked the surprising defeat of Mississippi’s “Personhood Amendment.”  The ballot measure, also known as Initiative 26, which was widely expected to pass, was trounced by an overwhelming margin of 58 – 42.

The Colorado-based group called Personhood USA, a self-described nonprofit Christian ministry, first proposed the measure, which would have amended the state constitution to say life begins at “fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”  This would have effectively banned all abortions and the morning-after pill in addition to making in vitro fertilization treatments more difficult (it would have become illegal to dispose of unused fertilized eggs).

The measure had only been attempted in one other state, Colorado (a much bluer than Mississippi), in which it was soundly defeated in both 2008 and 2010.  Indeed, Mississippi was thought to be friendly territory for proponents of a personhood initiative due to its particularly conservative nature.  The state already has among the strictest regulations in the country concerning abortions and just one abortion clinic.

Both the Democratic and Republican nominees for Governor had endorsed the measure and the Democratic Attorney General had promised to enforce it if it passed.  The day before the election, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (now the Governor-elect) went so far as to say that “Satan wins” if the personhood amendment was defeated.

Nonetheless, its convincing failure in Mississippi — thanks to a coalition of pro-choice groups, medical organizations and even some conservatives who believed the measure went too far — begs the question, is this the end of the personhood amendment?

Jennifer Dalven of the American Civil Liberties Union, for one, believes the personhood movement may have been dealt a decisive blow.  “Even in a conservative state, tonight’s vote reaffirms that people do not want government intruding in personal decisions best made by a woman, her family and her doctor,” said Dalven in a statement on November 8.

Marty Wiseman, the executive director of the John C. Stennis Institute for Government at Mississippi State University, agreed.  “I would imagine that it caused some of the national movers and shakers to sit up and take notice, because they probably considered Mississippi a slam-dunk,” said Wiseman to the Los Angeles Times.  “For it to fail in Mississippi certainly raises questions as to just where this thing could pass.”

Parenthood USA, however, does not appear to be deterred, according to a statement on its website.  “We vow to continue on this path towards affirming the basic dignity and human rights of all people because we are assured that it is the right thing to do,” the statement read, “and we are prepared for a long journey.”

“I am ready to go again,” added Keith Mason, the founder of Personhood USA. “We accomplished our mission to be a voice for the voiceless who have no one else speaking for them.”

According to the International Business Times, “Personhood supporters are ready to keep fighting.  [Mason] told The Associated Press that he intends to renew efforts to pass Personhood legislation or ballot initiative in Mississippi.  Personhood USA is also fighting to land similar initiatives on 2012 ballots in Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada and California.”  None of these states, however, is anywhere as culturally conservative as Mississippi, a fact that leads one to wonder of the viability of such initiatives.

Indeed, other leaders of the anti-abortion movement, noting the surprising failure in Mississippi, are calling for more incremental steps to be taken.  They fear that the all-or-none approach of Personhood USA is in fact harming the movement and would prefer to initially push for less controversial — albeit still quite divisive — state laws.

Nonetheless, personhood proponents vow that, despite the odds, their fight is far from over.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Mason “said that even in defeat, the measure had strengthened the movement, prompting thousands of people to flock to the group’s website offering to volunteer for efforts around the country.”

“This may be a discouragement to some,” Mason said to the Times. “But for others, it is an encouragement to fight.”

 

Published by Eric Stern

Eric Stern, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is Editor-in-Chief of The Politic.

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