'Personhood' loses in Mississippi, but what now for the nation?
The abortion-banning "personhood" ballot initiative was rejected Tuesday by voters in Mississippi, a harsh blow for the nationwide movement that seeks to challenge abortion rights by defining "personhood" as beginning at the moment a human egg is fertilized.
Initiative 26, which would have amended the Mississippi constitution -- and banned abortion in all cases, including those of rape and incest -- was headed for certain defeat Wednesday. With 96% of precincts reporting, the no votes were at 58%, the yes votes at 42%, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
Colorado voters rejected similar measures in 2008 and 2010. But with the Mississippi loss, the idea has now been voted down in what is, by some measures, the most conservative and religious state in the nation.
Abortion-rights activists contend that Tuesday's vote put a brake on the momentum that the Colorado-based group Personhood USA is seeking to build with efforts to put similar measures on numerous statewide ballots in 2012, including in California.
"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," the ACLU's Jennifer Dalven said in a prepared statement Tuesday night. "This is the third time an amendment like this has failed. Legislators around the country should listen to the voters of Mississippi and stop playing politics with women's health."
In a phone interview, ACLU staff attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas added: "This is just another nail in the coffin for this really extremist movement."
Many supporters of Personhood USA are fed up with what they see as an incrementalist approach to banning abortion in the U.S., but other pro-life leaders have argued that their strategy could backfire, with federal courts striking down any state abortion bans and possibly strengthening abortion rights with new, stronger rulings.
The group, in a statement on its website, does not appear to be deterred, noting that a quarter of a million Mississippi voters supported Initiative 26.
"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, and we are prepared for a long journey," the statement said. "...A personhood amendment, recognizing everyone as a legal person, is the right thing to do. It is always right to protect our citizens. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'The time is always right to do what is right.'"
-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta
Photo: Parents against Mississippi Initiative 26 attend a rally at the State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Oct. 27. Credit: Barbara Gauntt / The Clarion-Ledger / Associated Press