“They’ve just taken an incremental approach,” said Les Riley, the founder of Personhood Mississippi and father of 10 who initiated the state’s effort. “We’re just going to the heart of the matter, which is: Is this a person or not? God says it is, and science has confirmed it.”
“Life-at-conception” ballot initiatives in other parts of the country, including Colorado last year, have failed amid concerns about their far-reaching, and in some cases unforeseeable, implications.
But proponents of the amendment — who were inspired partly by the tea party movement — say they are more confident of victory in Mississippi, a Bible Belt state where antiabortion sentiment runs high and the laws governing the procedure are so strict that just one clinic provides abortions.
Opponents of the measure, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, have cast it more broadly as an infringement on women’s health and an example of government overreach. Like backers of the amendment, dubbed “MS 26,” they have turned out at college football games to distribute literature and spend weekday evenings working phone banks — although not on Wednesdays, because so many people attend church.
“A lot of people think this is just about abortion, but it’s not about abortion,” said Valencia Robinson, an abortion rights and HIV activist in Jackson, who spent a recent day knocking on doors. “It’s bad for women’s health, it’s bad for our economy, and my strongest point is, it’s just government intrusion in our personal lives.”
Still, the measure has broad backing across party lines, with both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates voicing support for it (the Democrat, Johnny DuPree, has expressed concern about how it would affect birth control and in-vitro fertilization).
Change in approach
For years, the strategy favored by conservative activists nationally has been to gradually decrease access to abortion by cutting government funding and imposing restrictions, such as requiring women to view ultrasound images before the procedure.
The aim has been to reduce the number of abortions while awaiting a mix of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court that would be inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
An energized group of activists has grown impatient with that approach. They take an uncompromising position on abortion, opposing it even in cases of rape and incest. Some also oppose making exceptions to save the life of the mother, arguing that both lives are equal and that doctors do not have the right to choose to save one over the other. Some even object to the term “fertilized egg.”