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. Pro-Choice USMC vet

    Why is it that during our touch economic times, when everyone is concerned about jobs and saving their homes from foreclosure, the issue of abortion comes up? This is just merely a distraction. The government should stay out of a woman's womb....period!!!!

    November 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sanity

    Blacks comprise about 13% of the US population and over 35% of US abortions. Liberals hate for that fact to emerge because it shows the real racists. If Republicans supported such racie-based genocide, the media would go nuts.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      So you are in favor of prohibiting abortions because you believe it would oppress mostly black women, is that right?

      November 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • sequoia

      Yawn. Nobody is interested in your pathetic victimhood complex re: the meeeedia (waaaahhhhhh), your ignorant race baiting, your partisan ideology OR your backwards oppressive theocratic fascist state where the government forces women to give birth against their will. We will NEVER accept your "Christian" Sharia law in America.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sanity

      I'm not opposed to abortion, just to racism and hipprocracy. Calling other people Nazis is usually a charge liberals make against conservatives; but the population control of blacks supported by liberals is truly disgusting. And, no, people against abortion are not obligated to adopt the children anymore than liberals who support equality of income are required to adopt homeless people.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. clarke

    It failed because people are smarter than are given credit for. Also I donn't care what these people do next as long as my freedoms stay. Sorry folks, but even Jesus would not dictate like this. This cult has gone to far.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. The Wolf

    What's next? With this group, I'd expect witch burnings

    November 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. us1776

    Good.

    If these religious i d i o t s cannot get this stupid "personhood" amendment passed in Mississippi then they will not be able to get it passed anywhere.

    Common sense reigns

    .

    November 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Lisa P

    Actually the "Personhood" movement has me more convinced than ever that a fetus is *not* a person. In fact, I think we need an amendment that makes it clear that a person is only legally a person at birth - the traditional standard on which, I think, everyone can agree. If some would prefer to act as though an unborn person is actually a full living breathing real born person that would still be their right, but no one else would be legally bound to agree with them.

    And if my "Person at Birth" amendment ends up denying "personhood" to corporations? Just a happy result of applying common sense and conventional wisdom to the question of legal rights.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nick

    Whether you agree with them or not, please understand they are not against a woman's rights, they just want everyone to have a chance at life. All of us on here were given a chance, you and or I could have been aborted. Keep that in mind. I'm not for or against this idea, but I do believe that life begins at conception.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      Everyone has a chance at life but a woman facing a life threatening pregancy? Or a victim of r a p e denied the morning after pill? They are 100 percent against women's rights.

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

      When life begins is irrelevant. A bacterium is living, but we don't consider it to have rights.

      The question is when does a fetus become a person in a legal sense. This is not science, it is not biology. It is politics. We can decide the question.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erica

      So if all it is about is "everyone having a chance in life" why is Mississippi's infant mortality rate one of the highest in the nation? What about those live babies? To use a comparison of St John's how can they claim to care about babies they haven't seen when they don't care about ones they have seen? Maybe the abortion issue is really about control and political power than saving babies.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • dscot

      ". . . but I do believe that life begins at conception."

      No you don't. You just haven't thought very much about it. The fertlized egg was alive before conception (implantation in the uterus of the mother), and both the sperm and unfertilized egg were separately alive prior to fertilization.

      This debate is not about being human or alive (the sperm and unfertilized egg are both undeniably human and alive). It is about choosing an arbitrary point in the human life cycle to confer full personhood rights. And the implications of conferring those rights upon a fertilized egg (implanted in the uterus or not) are far reaching and inevitably absurd. For example, the fact is that 50% or greater of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion. Most of the time the woman was never aware she was pregnant. Not a tragedy, just the way procreation works. But if you pass an absurd law making every fertilized egg a "person", then under our equal protection statutes the state has a duty to "rescue" those millions of spontaneously aborted fertilized eggs. And that's just one example.

      November 9, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Corvus1

    What happened? More people have their eyes open and their heads out of their a sses, that's what happened.

    What's next? Get over it. Don't like abortion, then don't have one.

    "We choose life"? Great! That's what being pro-choice is all about! Being able to choose! 🙂 (oh, wait, you're not "pro choice" because you're forcing your choices onto others.)

    November 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. high school biology advocate

    "[The zygote], formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being." Keith L. Moore, Essentials of Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2008. p. 2.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • us1776

      Approved by the Texas Board of Taliban Education

      .

      November 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      From the official handbook of the mutaween.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • high school biology advocate

      My friends you have actually just tried to marginalize a standard textbook of embryology because it doesn't suit your agenda. How amazing. Would it surprise you to know this is the consensus? The vast majority of scientists and doctors, biology and embryology textbooks agree with that simple and obvious scientific fact – a new life begins at conception. Here's another standard text book for you...

      "The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote." [Sadler, T.W. Langman's Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

      November 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      Yeah, you putting that at the end of *every post* educates us all.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sharlee

      Biological life is not the same as humanity. If I accidentally cut myself, the blood cells that emerge from the cut are biologically alive, but they certainly aren't people. A fertilized egg from a human is indistinguishable from a fertilized egg of a dog, cat, gerbil, etc, on all but the remote genetic level. If a fertility clinic mixed up a sample of human zygotes with lab rat zygotes, would you insist they all be implanted into a woman's womb rather than discarded, just in case? Because there is *nothing* that could distinguish the human ones from the rodent ones without destroying them.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. trigtwit palin... America's favorite tard baby

    Right now I'm just a little mess. Some day I'm going to be a big mess. Smart thinking, Sarah !

    November 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. udontknowjacque

    I don't understand why this is the platform Mississippi is going after. Shouldn't they be more concerned about their current citizens who are undereducated, & underpaid, who can't take care of existing children, and continue to raise them to hate/kill blacks? I mean first things first Mississippi.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Scottish Mama

    I have given the statistic before that it is usually the people with religious backgrounds that have abortions. 78% infact.
    I have come to the realization that it may be because these are also the people that say not to take birth controll, they teach abstinence instead. So I think if anything came out of this vote, it is that teaching abstinence does not work, and if you are in a religion it is better to teach your child about birth controll methods.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Autumnsky

    What happened to the Ohio union story?

    November 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. D

    If a fetus is a person then the mother can tell the fetus to get off of her property. In fact the government would have a duty to remove the fetus if it did not remove itself in a timely manner. Just like if a person would not remove themselves from another persons property the cops can remove the person. If you are willing to say a fetus has the rights of a person then they have the responsibilities of a person.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      They would just pass a law carving out an exception for developing humans, to exempt them from prosecution for trespass of person on the mother's uterus. They would use measure 26 to justify it. That argument is a dead end, as state legislatures are empowered to pass laws limiting what can be contested in civil matters.

      November 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mary

    This crap is of the lowest possible sociological importance and priority.

    November 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
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