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.

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Filed under: Abortion • Mississippi • U.S.
soundoff (1,721 Responses)
  1. Concerned for Women

    If the goal is to protect every life – what happens when the interest of the fetus conflict with those of the mother. If a mother's life is at risk and you can only save one of them – do you let them both die in order to protect the fetuses right to life?

    November 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lila

    This insane movement opens the door to controlling regular pregnant women too. Everything they do or not do can make them liable to the "personhood". Didn't eat healthy enough? Didn't ake all the prenatal vitamins, too much fat, too much caffeine? Low birth weight or any other issues could be legally blamed on the mother. Children could sue their mothers if it's proven so. Then there's outlawing certain fertility treatments and birth control, miscarriages would be investigated, etc..

    November 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • RN

      Absolutely, and this coming from the GOP – the same folks who want smaller government.
      Are they perverts that the only thing they want to expand is the governments intrusion into your bedroom?

      November 9, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Somebody has to care about the unborn since all we seem to do is want them dead.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      And Rob wants to see women dead instead.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Actually, of the 50,000,000 abortions that have been done to date, I would imagine a pretty high percentage of them are women. The only people supporting the death of women are those who continue to support this so called right.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • dinabq

      It's not just the mother that determines a successful pregnancy but also the health of the man and his sperm. Will the law go after him for his bad habits? NO! If a company's product causes a miscarriage, would the law go after the company? No, of course not. It's only women that should get punished. If a pregnancy threatens a woman's life, should a court decide if an abortion is okay? Or maybe the voters? If you don't like abortion, don't have one.

      November 9, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. filbert

    Is the fertilized egg eligible for welfare?

    November 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • palintwit

      Only if it's an illegal Mexican fertilized egg.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • IceT

      Is child support required for the storage costs of a frozen embryo?

      November 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • JusDav

      Great insight. If they get full benefits, then the would get Social Security if the mother did, tax deduction from conception? hardly think the government would do that.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Contrarian Thinker

    For those suggesting this is about "protecting" unborn multi-celled organisms without cognitive function, and not about religious-based suppression of women's rights, I offer the following consideration: Suppose this referendum instead suggested a ban on masturbation, as it could be construed as an act of mass murder, how many men would vote yes on that bill?

    November 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joshua Cross

      Brilliant answer.

      Seriously. I wrote a blog postulating this about 18 months ago but your succintness and turn on the argument to backstop your logic are impressive.

      So what do you figure on the consicousness issue? 26 weeks?

      November 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      @Contrarian Thinker – thank you for making that point. The principle is the same, I don't see how individual sperm can count as people, nor do I think we should mourn the death skin cells on the scalp.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Stop patting yourself on the back. The product of this act will never become a human being. Every human life begins with conception. Sperm on it's own accord will never become a life. I suspect you probably know a lot about that. 🙂

      November 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Contrarian Thinker

      @ Joshua Cross – the reason pro lifers come up with "life starts at conception" is because there is no solid answer to your question. We cannot set a benchmark that makes sense because fetuses develop at different rates. To suggest its a "life" when it has a heartbeat, or some other arbitrary point, could mean didferent things for different people. And I am the proud soon to be first time parent of a little girl who is 5 months in utero. if something happened to her now, i'd be devastated. Had something happened to her before i even knew we were pregnant, I couldn't have cared less. its that in between gray area thats tricky and the reason we are having this discussion.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Contrarian Thinker

      @ Rob – To your point, I could argue that a fertilized egg without implantation in a uterus without a functioning placenta and umbilical cord, without a minimal baseline of nutrition isn't destined to ever become a living breathing baby either....so should we add all that as prerequisite language before having a referendum on this? You are refusing to see the flaws in your own argument.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Your problem is that you are over thinking this. From the moment of conception to natural death, we are all human beings in a particular stage of development. You will see that your baby, who when born, could not survive without you, is no less of a human being because it can't think like an adult. You are not adequately honoring natural human development, that if left alone, will develop into that baby 9 months later. And maybe you wouldn't care at all if your wife lost her baby, but I doubt your wife would feel the same way. When a women get's pregnant, she knows exactly what is happening. It's not just a cluster of cells, but a life.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Contrarian Thinker

      @ Rob – I respect your point of view, and I will always take solace in being accused of over thinking when compared to "under thinking" anything. However, the broader point I am trying to make is that this argument is laced with way too many "what ifs" and "what abouts" in order for there to be a clear cut answer/solution. If I were wrong about this, we wouldn't be debating this....it would be viewed simply as something like "murder is wrong", which, while based in religion, is somewhat intrinsic in human nature/morality provided that it is not in self-defense/self-preservation. When a life is a life, and whether or not something could be construed as one, is a matter of opinion, and thus should never be forced into law.

      Any scientist could argue that a single-celled amoeba is "alive". you are picking and choosing as to what defines a "human" life, as am I. There simply is no clear answer.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Personally, I do think there is a clear answer. But given the potential consequence, wouldn't you want to err on the side of caution? If you are wrong, there is no do over.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Student

    Entertaining and meaningless tangent:

    If it had passed, would pregnant women be counted twice in the census? If you were expecting twins, would you get counted thrice?

    Would you be able to claim a fetus as a dependent on state tax returns? How much of a budget impact would that have?

    November 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • cc

      This is a valid point.....

      If a fetus is considered a person hence a US citizen, and granted all the same rights and protections as a US citizen, they must also be granted all the same benefits as a US citizen. That means they can be claimed as a dependent on tax returns, financial aide applications, welfare application, unemployment claims, etc. They would have an equal stake as any other family member in any family estate or will. They must be accounted for in any census. I could go on and on. In order for this measure to have any validity, the state would have to completely re-write their tax code.

      And then what happens if the Fed Govt doesn't recognize the fetus as a person or a citizen? OK...your a citizen of Mississippi, but your not a citizen of the USA??? How does that work?

      November 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian


      I think you're exaggerating the impact just a bit.

      1) A mother wouldn't claim herself more than once in the census. There's still only one of her. What she'd do is claim more children.

      2) The unborn child wouldn't (or at least shouldn't) be claimed as a dependent on income tax forms, because the mother isn't providing anything extra for the child yet. (The prenatal care, for example, is something that's provided to her, and on her own behalf.) You don't have to feed, clothe, or house an unborn child, either, so there's no justification for calling an unborn child a dependent.

      What does come into play, however, is how the woman takes care of herself and her baby during pregnancy. I would expect women who drink, smoke, or take drugs during pregnancy to face prosecution. And I'm actually okay with that.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rob

    Given how low Mississippi ranks in everything from healthcare to education, shouldn't they focus on the children that are already here and don't have good schools, go to bed hungry every night, live in poverty, and don't get decent healthcare?

    There is a lot more to Christianity than just abortion...

    November 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nate

    Mississippi proves that they don't deserve as much ire as they get. This was a great rejection of an ill-conceived bill that would have done nothing but harm.

    November 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tom

    Yay, liberty wins against control again!

    November 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. vicky

    economically these are serious times and these fools have nothing better to think about??

    November 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matthew

      nothing better than mass extermination of a huge part of our nation's future?

      November 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      @Matthew – extermination, really? That's emotional rhetoric. Take better care of the kids who are already here, and stop trying to make sure every pregnant lunatic gets a chance to add to the unreasonable number of humans on this rock.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Yeah, 50,000,000 babies wiped out. That's some emotional rhetoric. Do you homework on population, particularly fertility rates and you'll see that very soon we are going to a very interesting population issue.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Matthew

    "Suppose this referendum instead suggested a ban on masturbation, as it could be construed as an act of mass murder"

    No it wouldn't. Sperm that has not fertilized an egg has no more capacity to grow into a human child than does a rock. Further, masturbation in no way inhibits men from reproducing in either the short or long term

    November 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Contrarian Thinker

      Matthew – you have missed my point. the point is that sperm have the potential to become a life, just as a fertilized egg has potential, ONLY if a whole host of other things happen as well....like implantation in the uterus, a functioning placenta/umbilical cord, basebline proper nutrition of the mother etc. Hell, the HUMAN BODY itself has a mechanism for determining whether or not a fertilized egg is viable to live. it's called miscarriage, which occurs mostly when the body spontaneously aborts the fertilized egg because of some problem not enabling it to survive or grow normally.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Sperm, on it's own, never has the potential to become a human being. After conception, the potential is there. If allowed to grow, there will be a baby. If nature makes another decision, then so be it. But we shoun't be allowed to terminate that life merely out of convenience. We are trying to use science in some twisted way to say it's not a life, but then it's life etc. It's always a human life.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Contrarian Thinker

      @Rob – i disagree with you assessment that sperm itself does not have potential to become a life. perhaps you are unclear on the meaning of the word "potential". Every single sperm has the potential to become a life. This is why they duke it out to see which one will fetilize an egg, if an egg is ovulated at the right time. This is also why different kids have different characteristics...because different DNA makes each sperm unique....otherwise all your kids would look the same. To account for the randomness of which sperm will "win" and fertilize the egg, they must all have "potential".

      November 9, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Contrarian Thinker

      @Rob..and also "we are trying to say its not a lfie, and then all of a sudden a life".....that is exactly what you are saying about sperm. its not a life, even though it can move on its own, and have the physical and mental ability to navigate its way to an egg, but as soon as it enters another cell, THEN its a life. ITS A SLIPPERY SLOPE MY FRIEND.....

      November 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      It really isn't a slippery slope. An egg on it's own is not a life. A sperm on it's own is not a life. And on their own never will become a life. But conception completely changes everything and begins the path. People do not go to planned parenthood to have eggs removed or sperm discarded, they go to terminate pregnancies. We know exactly what it is and there really isn't anything slippery about it.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Pete

    Please find me a Republican who wants to pay for the health care of unwanted children. They will say that life begins when you go to work for a corporation like Wal-Mart.

    November 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rob

    It's just so sad what has become of our populace that we even have to have disputes like this. We want to treat our bodies like amusement parks and do everything within our power not to be held accountable for our actions. We are the me, myself and I generation and we'll use any justification to ensure that nothing, absolutely nothing get's in the way of me being able to indulge myself. With the lack of respect so many of you men have for life on this blog, I really feel sorry for the women in your life. I sure hope the selfishness that is just spewing forth on this website is just words because I hope that isn't how you approach life, especially the treatment of other women. We have abortinos because so few men are willing to step up and do what's right. Abortion is providing so much cover for all you cowards and at the end of the day use all the science you want or the bs privacy arguements, but the truth remains, you are just coward that don't want to man up. And you make a women and an innocent baby pay for inability to control yourself. Just sad.

    November 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hojo

      Most ignorant comment. Ever.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      Sure, because nothing shows you care like denying r a p e victims emergency contraception or letting women d i e from ectopic pregnancy.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      More emotional rhetoric with no real idea about what goes on in the world.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kat

      It doesn't matter whether the man steps up or not. It is not his body and he has no say over what the woman chooses to do with it.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Hojo

    Thank God. This is no where near a decision that government should have. What happened to conservatives wanting smaller government? This is the epitome of government trying to overreach it's boundaries.

    November 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Sorry if the truth hurts.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Anomic Office Drone

    I think the best thing supporters of this movement could do is abort themselves in protest.

    November 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BobAD

    The Christian Taliban Failed......

    November 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
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