What happened to and what's next for failed personhood measure?
The personhood movement has gained traction nationwide and has been represented at the annual "March for Life" event in Washington.
November 9th, 2011
12:58 PM ET

What happened to and what's next for failed personhood measure?

In the weeks leading up to Mississippi's vote on whether to declare a fertilized egg a person and grant it full rights, nearly everyone was saying the measure was sure to pass.

It was considered the perfect place to mount what could have been a historic challenge to abortion laws: After all, Mississippi is the most anti-abortion, religious and conservative state, according to a Gallup Poll. It was supposed to give a boost to the nationwide movement of the Colorado-based nonprofit Christian group Personhood USA, which is attempting to get the measure on the ballot in several other states.

The measure had all of the momentum within the state, with both the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor endorsing it.

But on Tuesday, voters rejected the measure.

So what exactly happened?

There were a few theories floating around Wednesday morning after the measure was defeated. (The Clarion-Ledger said with 96% of precincts reporting, the vote was 58% to 42% against the measure.)

1) People began asking questions about the language of the amendment.

Many of those opposing the bill who spoke to CNN said there simply had not been enough discussion about what the amendment would actually do. Women we spoke to said they felt this was government overreaching to begin with, but they weren't even sure how far-reaching it would be because the language was so ambiguous.

They wanted to know: What are the implications? What will it mean for women's reproductive rights? What does it mean about the decisions a woman can make with her doctor? Will it mean women will be at the mercy of the state when it comes to everything from taking certain birth control pills to trying to conceive if a couple is infertile? What happens to those fertilized eggs for IVF treatments if they aren't used? And would people be facing prosecution if they did any of those things?

Certainly, as opponents suggested, the vague language of the bill and the unknown implications could have been part of what swayed voters.

Many of those questions were dismissed by those in support of the bill, saying they were merely scare tactics. All they were trying to do was give equal rights to the unborn, supporters said, the same ones afforded to the mother.

2) Media organizations from across the country descended on Mississippi in the week before the election to cover the controversial issue.

The national media spotlight added to the conversation around the measure and certainly gained attention for the movement. As coverage ramped up, the scales seemed to start tipping. A measure that was expected to pass easily now was really stirring up debate. Legal experts began discussing the implications, contending the amendment would violate federal law as outlined by the Roe v. Wade ruling.

Columnists across the globe began weighing in on the amendment itself, what it meant for the abortion debate overall, and whether they felt this was the right way to go about a change.

Members of the media also began speaking to some key figures from prominent churches who were anti-abortion, but said they still couldn't endorse the measure because they feared the bill might be so ambiguous or far-reaching that it could actually hamper the ability to take down Roe v. Wade and it could actually strengthen its standing.

3) Key figures voiced concerns right before the election.

In the day before the election, polls were the closest they had ever been, with a Public Policy poll showing that 44% opposed the constitutional amendment and 45% supported it. That meant there was a key 11% of voters who were undecided on the issue and a media campaign was directed their way. Grass-roots efforts from the group No on 26 picked up with the support of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

But there are many who suggest that comments from outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour in the middle of last week  could have been part of what swayed the vote. As the debate about the proposed amendment bubbled to the national level, the fiercely conservative governor came out and did something not many expected: He expressed that he was undecided about the issue, saying it was "too ambiguous."

Then, on Friday, Barbour came out and publicly said that even though he still had some concerns, he believed that life did begin at conception, and had cast his ballot.

But for some, that undecided statement, from a very anti-abortion man, was a signal that the measure might be in trouble.

The Christian Science Monitor published an article on why support waned as Election Day neared. Their subhead read: "Reservations by the medical community and even Gov. Haley Barbour ahead of Election Day have made a dent in support for a Mississippi measure that would confer 'personhood' on fertilized eggs."

What happens now for personhood movement?

Those behind the Mississippi measure, and the nationwide movement for "personhood," have said that they will continue their efforts to give equal rights to the unborn from the moment of conception.

"Personhood USA understands that changing a culture and changing a country will not happen with one election, and so it is not unexpected," a statement on their website reads. "We thank the over one quarter of a million Mississippians who voted for Amendment 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."

That long journey may not take long to continue. While Mississippi was expected to be the best chance at passing the measure, there are still plenty of other states taking up the cause, including nine that will have it on the ballot during the 2012 presidential election. They include the key states of Florida and Ohio.

"State by state, and election by election, we are taking critical steps towards defending the right to life of all human beings, every person, and ending the dangerous and deadly practice of abortion," the group said. "The time has come for America to stop treating the unborn as property to be disposed of as we see fit. We are thankful that lives were saved and hearts were changed through the Yes on 26 campaign, and we are prepared to do it again in multiple states across the nation."

Yes on 26, the state group in Mississippi working with Personhood USA, had removed almost all of their videos and language from their website as of Wednesday morning. All that remained was a lone photo of a fetus, shown below, with the words Thank You, for those who supported the measure.

The website for Yes on 26 has replaced most of their campaign literature with this photo.

But if Personhood USA's statement is any indication, the fight against Roe v. Wade and the battle to redefine "personhood" will continue across the nation. Personhood USA says it expects to have the measure back on the ballot in Mississippi a second time, as it did in Colorado.

"We recognize that the right time to end abortion in Mississippi is now, and that is why the citizens of Mississippi will attempt a personhood ballot measure again and again, if necessary until every person’s life is protected," the group said.

Post by:
Filed under: Abortion • Mississippi • U.S.
soundoff (1,721 Responses)
  1. Jolene

    These types of issues are religious and moral. Not the stuff of electoral politics. The US is not a theocracy. Keep it that way and resolves such issues via other means.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • IceT

      Relgion & morals are not one in the same ... human morals DO NOT come from religion, they come from Human societal norms & as such are constantly evolving. Morals were here long before religion.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Newmoon2

    The people of Mississippi demonstrated wisdom by rejecting this back-door attempt to infringe on the rights of women. Good on ya!

    November 9, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      Right on. I think we ought to go a step further and allow abortion doctors to discard of newborns through 3 months of age too. Sometimes people may change their mind after the birth and we can't allow the government to infringe on the rights of women. Babies can be such an inconvenience and we need better avenues to be able to eliminate them.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmericanSam

      The two of you are off base! A sperm and egg should be considered half human beings, and masturbation, which leads to the death of 300 million sperm, so 150 million whole human beings, should be outlawed! Anyone caught masturbating should get the death penalty. It's genocide!

      November 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • bethjoyce

      This has totally changed my opinion of Mississipians for the better. Thank you Mississippi.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kay

      Dumb comments don't help your cause, Jamie.

      If you want to believe that a zygote is not just human, but also a full person with all the rights (and responsibilities) of those human beings who were actually born, feel free to believe it. But why not spend time thinking about all the ramifications of what that would mean...which is FAR more than simply making a pregnant woman carry to full term,

      The supporters of this proposition can claim all they want that all the other issues being raised were just "scare tactics"...but they weren't. They were genuine and legitimate concerns that logically follow if you declare that even a zygote is a person, rather than a potential person.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. city1360

    thanks to the women of MS who told Haley and his psycho group to pound sand. !
    great work

    November 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tifoso

    Agree with you point BUT a "kahuna" is a boss, a leader. You mean "cojones", didn't you?. Although, you may be correct after all. Would be beneficial to Mississippi to grow some real kahunas rather than the cardboard cutouts they elect again and again.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • bighulawood

      I wonder just how much taxpayer money was allocated to this ill conceived (ha!) right wing attempt at forcing their minority theological demands on the greater public. And how much will continue to be lost as they keep throwing money on this increasingly dated ideology. You'd think they'd have some idea of whether this would truly fly before submitting it to ballot.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tg00

    I for one am proud of the people of Mississippi for doing the right thing at the right time…for once. Perhaps this is the clear evidence of evolution so many of them seek! For a state with such a dismal and yet verified sense of tradition, resistance to change, and fundamentalist background, I for one can say that I am happy with them. For a state that everyone just assumed would let this one blow right on through…and didn’t, this is a statement about the evolution of our society and our views of the rights of women as they have changed.
    On to the bigger problem; this whole movement. It only currently exists because the distraction of the abortion debate in main-stream politics has been surpassed by two wars, cuts in education funding, failing healthcare, national debt, a failed economy, and a host of other issues right now that matter MORE than the current Roe v. Wade precedents. Let it rest. We are and have always been a reasonably progressive nation, from our very inception. Let’s stay that way….

    November 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jamie

    Congratulations, you retain the right to be able to have your unborn son or daughter killed if you feel the need to do so. So if life doesn't begin at conception when does it begin? If you intentionally stop someones beating heart what do you call it if you don't call it murder. Hopefully some day people who are now pro-choice may realize how foolish it is to allow this kind of thing (just like people against the civil rights movement mostly changed their minds years later). Is there really much of a difference between someone who stabs a pregnant woman in the stomach and kills the baby (and is thus charged with a crime against the fetus-not to mention against the woman also) and a woman who gives permission to someone to brutally destroy the baby inside of her which by the way is alive but just doesn't happen to have a birth certificate yet. Sick!

    November 9, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gingeet

      You couldn't be any more clueless! A zygote is not a person and doesn't have a beating heart. Life does not begin at conception and a few cells that could sit on top of a pin are not human. Take some Biology classes!

      November 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • RobinMO

      Medical science has clearly and unequivocally established that a certain level of neurologic function is required for personhood. This is why, everyday, physicians discontinue life support on bodies that contain millions of living cells but are no longer persons. The fetus has developed the neurologic function consistent with personhood at about 23 to 24 weeks of gestation, so that is when a human life begins, from a scientific perspective.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      If you would read your bible instead of letting someone else tell you what it says, it says that life begins when you take your first breath. So even God disagrees with you on this. God says it isn't a life until the first breath is taken.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • thoughtful

      If you think the fertilized egg has rights, so be it. But what if I don't want that child? Then find a way to remove it without killing it and you can incubate it until it is born. You can pay the medical bills. You can feed, clothe and care for the child. It does not seem reasonable to equate a fertilized egg with a "person" unless that person can be even a little independent. Spend your money on technology to harvest that fertilized egg so that women who do not want a child do not have to carry it and those that want to raise one, can. But quit spending money to tell others what they must do with their bodies. This amendment would have made IUD's illegal because the egg is fertilized at that point, just not implanted on the uterine wall. Fine – take the egg if the woman doesn't want it. But don't make her carry it against her will.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry L

      Fertilized eggs often fail to implant on the wall of the uterus and are discharged with the menstral fluids. In your world, the one without any understanding of biology, the cast off egg would be a tiny little person to be sifted-out for a proper burial. Really? How would the woman even know?

      Don't forget the eggs commonly discarded by fertility clinics. Would the lab technician need to go to jail? Religion can become a disease where the brain totally loses the ability to reason. Get help!

      November 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike,Albany

      Jamie, if woman has a miscarriage, is she guilty of involuntary manslaughter? Would you force her to endure an ectopic pregnancy? If her pregnancy is deemed risky because of age or other medical factors but she carries the baby to term and the baby is born with some severe birth defect, is she then guilty of endangering the welfare of a child? If a woman who has had many miscarriages and yet still tries to carry a baby to term and miscarries gain, when would you charge her with criminally negligent homicide? If a woman's life is in danger because of a pregnancy, how do you choose between the mother and the baby?I think we have to agree pregnancy carries certain risks both to the mother and the fetus and they simply will not all be successful – this is just a medical fact. But we cannot have criminal investigations into every unsuccessful pregnancy. If this were the case, women in my own family who have miscarried would probably be in prison right now. I think we have to agree, then, that life begins when the fetus could survive on its own outside the womb.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      Thoughtful– I think most aborted babies would not just be considered fertilized eggs. They have fingers, a head, a beating heart etc. They are not just a few cells or a blob as many would say.
      Larry– A fertilized egg that fails to implant is just not going to develop. Why would you interpret from my comment that I want to bury a fertilized egg? All I'm saying is it ought to be illegal to intentionally end the life of someone. We have no control over un-implanted eggs or miscarriages etc. It's plainly obvious when someone intentionally ends the life of a baby by ripping it right out of the womb, which in some cases the baby is even still alive when they pull it out and promptly place it in a bucket.
      Mike–As I mentioned above a woman has no control over a miscarriage (most of the time). If someone intentionally goes to a doctor to end the babies life well obviously this is no mistake. We're not talking about investigating every miscarriage. We're talking about making it illegal to allow a doctor to intentionally kill a baby. How did we even get to the point where we've said it's OK to inject acid into the womb to burn a baby to death or to allow them to be murdered even in any way that's been supposedly deemed humane.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kay

      Excuse me? Do you not know really grasp what this bill was about??? It was NOT about "most abortions". It was about the rights of a zygote or an embryo, not just a fetus. It was about granting full personhood to a single cell that hasn't even been implanted in the mother's womb. THAT is what it is about. And, yes...granting full personhood most certainly WILL require major changes. And those folks wrote about some of those major changes.

      Just because *you* didn't anticipate any of them doesn't mean they aren't valid concerns.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unconvinced

      Hunny, cells don't have birth certificates, social security numbers or passports or fingerprints. Fertilized cells can't be abducted, there are no alimony payments or court decisions regarding a cell. Until the last moment, birth, it's still not certain that the newborn is alive. I understand that there has to be some kind of "recognition" point, but it also has to be legally defensible and sensible. Beyond that, if you don't approve of abortions, DON'T have one. But do not mess with women's own decisions about carrying a baby to term and its future. That is NOT for you to decide.

      November 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • So Tired of Religion in Politics

      @ Jaime
      Learn biology & science. Oh wait, I forgot...Right wing conservatives DON't believe in any type of science or biology. That right, the notion of abortion is in that little black book called the 'bible'.
      So do you believe in capital punishment? Probably not since those are 'bad' people and should pay for their crime. But in your mind, these are innocent beings that should be given full legal rights like a real living human being that is alive. People like you are nothing more than hypocrites!

      November 9, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Word1917

      When women have an abortion in the first trimester the fetus doesn't even have fingers... a cluster of cells is not a person. That is ridiculous. Apparently it is okay to force a woman into having a baby she doesn't want or can't support? I love that pro-life supporters are so angry about "killing" a cluster of cells but when a woman does give birth to a baby she can't support, that woman and her baby are a drain on the system. Will you pro-lifers stand up and take care of all of these unwanted babies? No, you won't. You are more interested in inflicting your religious beliefs on people and telling women that their rights are less important than a cluster of cells'. You reduce women to mere incubators. What about a woman's personhood?

      November 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kevin in Atlanta

    Wait, Mississippi did something right? I...can't believe it...wow...good job...

    November 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. tifoso

    Thomas Jefferson put it: “It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” It is because the anti-abortion types are wrong that they feel the need to have government push their beliefs on others.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sheepleherder

    How many millions of dollars were spent on this, not just on the back and forth advertizing, but on government workers time, paperwork and printing, etc.?? How many "lives" would have been improved and even SAVED by putting that money to helping poor mothers with newborns, children in orphanages, orphans aging out of the system ... so many others who could have used that money to make a REAL difference in their LIVES!! These people could really care less about "life", it's just their self serving attempts to "atone" for some other evil they have committed sometime in their lives. TOO LATE!! God knows what you did and will never forgive you!

    November 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. John

    Is it really a surprise that the most uneducated people are also anti-choice? Something about God telling them how to do everything seems to have affected their minds.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gingeet

      It's the "voices" in their heads that they think is their god talking to them...

      November 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Steve

    That picture of the crowd looks fake. It looks like the signs were "Photoshopped" in.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Texas Doc

    Ha Ha, the American Taliban got their butts kicked. Good work Mississippi, keep it up.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. shugie

    It seems some people want the government out of their business so that they can oppress others. This conservative thing is a double edged sword.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. IceT

    If a woman gets pregnant, chooses to keep the child but chooses to have the embryo frozen, does the father owe child support to maintain the frozen embryo & then again after birth? Just curious about opinions here ...

    November 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mark H.

    Wait! Now the right wants Big Government! I wish they would make up their minds! So when a pregnant woman falls and miscarries, it's manslaughter? Where do these people come from?

    November 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • IceT

      Good point ... I'd say it's child neglect, endangerment or even reckless use of a vehicle.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50