Mississippi anti-abortion ‘personhood’ amendment fails at ballot box

Amendment 26, the anti-abortion “personhood’ measure on the ballot in Mississippi failed to win enough votes for adoption on Tuesday. As Aaron Blake reported:

A constitutional amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person failed on the ballot in Mississippi on Tuesday, dealing the so-called “personhood” movement another blow.

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The state votes on the \

The state votes on the "personhood" amendment, which would designate a fertilized egg as a person.

Mississippi would have become the first state to define a fertilized egg as a person, a measure which was aimed at outlawing abortion in the state but, opponents contended, would have led to all kinds of unintended consequences.

In the end, those concerns won out in a strongly anti-abortion state. The amendment trailed 59 percent to 41 percent with more than half of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has said it will fail.

Had the measure passed, many thought it would have led to a new nationwide dialogue on abortion.

The measure earned the support of both Republicans and Democrats in Mississippi — including both of the major parties’ nominees for governor — but some of them hesitated to support it, including outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour (R).

Opponents say that measure could have criminalized birth control, affected in vitro fertilization practices and even forced doctors to decline to provide pregnant cancer patients with chemotherapy for fear of legal repercussions.

“Personhood” supporters had tried to pass a similar measure in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, but voters in that state rejected it more than two-to-one both times.

Why did Amendment 26 fail in Mississippi, a state where politicians from both sides supported the measure? As Jacques Berlinerblau wrote:

Mississippi’s “Personhood Amendment” self-imploded and succumbed to an unexpected defeat last night. Analysts are already dissecting the reasons for the collapse of an initiative that seemed a sure thing just a few weeks ago.

Yet this setback should not obscure a crucial truth: the hard Christian Right, which sponsored the Amendment 26, is the most swashbucklingest social movement out there. They will pull out all the stops, give you the razzle dazzle, double-down on doubling down. And, yes, they will be back, bigger and better than ever.

Secular believers and nonbelievers had better understand their antics and resolve. Expect one thousand Amendment 26s in the future. And that’s because this type of over-the-top activism is, currently, a win-win proposition for social conservatives.

Let’s be clear: the endeavor to define a fertilized egg as a human being endowed with all of the rights of what we would normally consider a citizen was a preposterous proposition from the start. It was simply insane from a variety of ethical, theological, libertarian, medical, metaphysical and even practical perspectives.

Leave aside all of that. The greatest absurdity consisted of the “compliance” component of this amendment. For how exactly could the state of Mississippi prevent and subsequently prosecute zygote homicide? Anecdotal evidence notwithstanding, most women are not aware of the precise moment when fertilization occurs. Other than deputizing roving ultra-sound technicians to perform random checks, other than forcing women of child-bearing age to take pop pregnancy tests in the street how could the state protect personhood when the state does not know if the so-called person even exists?

The measure’s practical and legal implications divided many voters in Mississippi, and while some religious groups came out in favor of “personhood’”others chose to remain neutral on the issue or oppose it. As AP reported:

The measure divided the medical and religious communities and caused some of the most ardent abortion opponents, including Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, to waver with their support.

Opponents said the measure would have made birth control, such as the morning-after pill or the intrauterine device, illegal. More specifically, the ballot measure called for abortion to be prohibited “from the moment of fertilization” — wording that opponents suggested would have deterred physicians from performing in vitro fertilization because they would fear criminal charges if an embryo doesn’t survive.

Supporters were trying to impose their religious beliefs on others by forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies, including those caused by rape or incest, opponents said.

Amy Brunson voted against the measure, in part because she has been raped. She also has friends and family that had children through in vitro fertilization and she was worried this would end that process.

“The lines are so unclear on what may or may not happen. I think there are circumstances beyond everybody’s control that can’t be regulated through an amendment,” said Brunson, a 36-year-old dog trainer and theater production assistant from Jackson.

Hubert Hoover, a cabinet maker and construction worker, voted for the amendment.

“I figure you can’t be half for something, so if you’re against abortion you should be for this. You’ve either got to be wholly for something or wholly against it,” said Hoover, 71, who lives in a Jackson suburb.

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