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. Jim

    The GOP crazies already have corporate personhood and now they want personhood for blastula that may or may not continue to grow. If only they could strip those that don't agree with them of personhood then they'd be really happy.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mark C

    Wow, 58% of Mississippians aren't complete imbeciles. Which is about 57% higher than I would have expected, so quite a surprise.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • J

      Wow, 100% of you is imbecile so...looks like you got a long way to go sunshine.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. moe smith

    If a fertilized egg is a person then parents should be able to claim that kid on their taxes.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voig Nederlander

      Sure a fertilized egg is a person. And you can build a treehouse on an acorn, too.

      November 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • phoodphite

      You know I wonder if people are starting to claim zombies as dependents now.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Voig Nederlander

    Fundamentalist Christians love life. Assuming that life is unborn, hasn't committed a crime, is white, and/or Christian. Everyone else can just take a hike.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • blackarrow

      Unless of course it is gay.
      You know, the kind of gay you can't pray away...

      November 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voig Nederlander

      Yes of course, Gay is also excepted.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jemmy

      Wow! You know absolutely NOTHING about Christians! God loves us no matter what color we are, because He created ALL of us, not just white people or mexicans or black people or chinese people or any other ethnicity.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voig Nederlander

      Christians love all life, huh? Let me say two little words to you and then I'll wait for you to go get your rope:

      Sharia Law.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jemmy

      Clever, but I said GOD loved all life, not Christians. I happen to love all life, but some other Christians are VERY prejudice-because they are human. If a "unreligious" person is prejudice, it's "normal", but if a Christian is, suddenly it's a big bad thing. People attack and mock that which they don't understand.
      And Muslims aren't Christian, sorry to say. (And I happen to love THEM, as well.)

      November 9, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • moe smith

      Christians ruin religion...

      November 9, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. J

    Christianity is a miserable failure.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voig Nederlander

      Actually, it's been painfully successful. It's been dulling minds and sensibilities for 2000 years now, and doesn't seem to be losing steam. You got the miserable part right, though.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. john

    I think the choice has to remain with the mother. Now we have the ability very early on to detect severe birth defects that would render result in a horrible quality of life for the newborn. A woman should be able to consult with her doctor and determine with the interference of the government if she wishes to bring a life into the world that will require round the clock medical care... most likely paid for by taxpayers. If a woman finds out she has cancer a month or two into her pregnancy, she should be able to consult with her doctor to determine what the best options are. The government does not need to be stepping in. If a woman is having trouble conceiving, the government should not step in and say she can't use fertility treatements to produce a viable zygot while perhaps dozens of others that are not viable are destroyed.

    Imagine a firefighter rushes into a building and one one side of the room is a 3 year old child... on the other side of the room is 100 petre dishes filled with a fertilized eggs. Would the firefighter face prison for saving the 3 year old child while leaving more than 100 "humans" to die? How many of these anit-abortion types would run first to the fertilized eggs and save them over a 3 year old? My bet is very few would choose to let a live 3 year old child die in a fire to save a fertilized egg. But these anti-abortion types don't like to think about anything except their desire to control the reproductive rights of women.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. popejon

    Fact: a fetus has a million friends until its born....

    November 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Native Oregonian

    So many lost souls who are looking for something to attach themselves to. Brought to you by a bunch of people who actually believe the 1800's were a good place to be, not to mention the 1950's for a woman or a black person. And do you think it's hypocritical most of these same so-called "pro-life" folks also wholeheartedly support every war and every execution in prison? And they are against social safety net programs that would actually save lives? This fringe only supports "life" when it's in the womb – after that, kick 'em to the curb, starve them, use them as cannon fodder, and shoot them in a time of war.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kris

    Why should a few cells have rights? Why should cells have rights over a woman's right to have control over her reproductive rights and the rights to HER OWN BODY? Why do we see so many men in the forefront of this battle over women's right to control their decisions of their rights to choose what is best for their life? If so many people are so concerned based on religious principles about abortion, go into your churches and do what you do and do it there. But stay out of politics. Religion and politics do not mix. You have no right to shove your religion down my throat and that is exactly what this group is doing. I detest this type of oppression and no one will tell me whether or not I can have an abortion or not.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Grumpster

    The entire religious bible belt can go back to being a separate country for all I care. They just suck the life out of the north between welfare, low education standards, and backward thinking.

    November 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jg

    What's next? Hopefully these ignorant GOP nutbags will crawl back under whatever rock they have been hiding under....
    My goodness. These people.....

    November 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Einstein

    It failed because, even in Mississippi, people aren't that stupid.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voig Nederlander

      Of course they are. What they didn't tell you was that 11% weren't undecided, they are functionally illiterate.

      You can tell it's a stupid state, because this nonsense should never even have made it onto the ballot.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Fidel Vitae

    In 1857, a living breathing black man, about 60 years old ,who was born in Virginia, was declared by the United States Supreme Court to not be a person with any legal rights in the US, but rather a piece of property to be bought ,sold or disposed at will. All commentators here would agree that The Court was simply wrong. Yet the majority of commentators here, by supporting Roe v Wade, make clear, that a baby, one hour short of taking its first breath is not a person, and has no legal rights, just like that Black man, Dredd Scott. Pray that the truth, which has been written upon your heart by your creator ,who made you in his likeness,will be revealed to you. Please view the video at silent scream dot org

    November 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • blackarrow

      yes, but biologically your black man was a conscience person.
      an early stage embryo isn't, no matter how much nutty propaganda you flail about.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kris

      You are wrong about 1 hour short on taking a breath. There have been many cases where people have been found guilty of murder when an unborn child was killed along with the mother being injured or murdered. So your statement is very incorrect.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • memyself

      Roe v. Wade says the states can't absolutely limit right to abortion only in the first trimester. The closer the unborn fetus gets to being fully developed, the more options the states have for limiting the right to terminate the pregnancy. Religious faith should not be an excuse for ignorance of the facts.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Stupid Bill, Valid Question

    Yeah, this bill had too many negative implications. Yet, those who blindly assert their definition of personhood is correct need to get over themselves. There's a reason it was put up for a vote. We haven't decided.

    It's been proven fetuses aren't just a mass of cells, they have functioning brains and respond to their environment. What makes someone human? I don't believe it's the act of birth, nor do I believe personhood begins at conception. But at some point, and that is the issue that needs to be decided, a mass of cells becomes a person. And Americans believe that all humans have the right to life. The woman's rights end where they infringe on the rights of the person she acted to conceive, inconvenient or not.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • blackarrow

      good point.
      which is why there are (and probably should be) time limits on when abortions can usually be performed.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voig Nederlander

      Christian Right thinking: Deny someone the right to use contraception. Then, force them to have a baby when they get pregnant. Then deny them public assistance, because they should "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps". It would be funny if it weren't precipitously close to happening.

      These are dangerous, backwards-thinking people who must be removed from government and the law making process. Write your congressmen and senators and demand they not engage in any religious activity while operating in an official capacity; this includes prayer breakfasts and the like where church elders can bend their ears.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • memyself

      I think you are getting to the real question. What is a person? I think there is a difference between a human and a person. Persons have rights; humans... sometimes not. A condemned human prisoner loses their right-to-life, as does a "brain-dead" medical patient. A fetus is clearly human, but maybe not a person. I think a person is someone who is aware that they have interests and that those interests can be affected by other persons. (Incidentally, mere "feeling pain" is not enough; a slime-mold will shrink away from a hot needle). An embryo, by my definition, is not a person. A early fetus is likewise not a person. At some point the fetus may become a person, but we can't test this sort of thing directly. To be very conservative, I suggest we draw the line, say, at 3 months gestation.

      Of course, all this is based on my notion of what a person is. Other people have different notions. Since we can't agree on this, and there is not objective metric available, we should best leave it up to the individual and their families to decide.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Daph1

    At least they included an amendment to remove the subject of religion on this initiative. This should balance off the argument between church and state.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
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