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. Catherine

    Can't wait for menopause, when the fight over my body is over!

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

      You could get your tubes tied.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Stormer

    It failed because people with good sense realized that the measure gave far more rights to a fetus than to a living, born person. To elevate the rights of a fetus over the rights of the mother is wrong, unethical, and immoral. The law would have made the woman a slave to the fetus and the people claiming to "care" about the unborn.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Justin

    Since the vocal minority is called the minority for a reason.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Max

    Women are so not the oven where men put their loaves of bread. Men do need rights and we should work on an artificial womb so they can carry for themselves.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. librababy

    I am so relieved that this didn't pass. I am also tired of people who are against abortions assuming that people who support the right of a woman to choose are pro-abortion. I am not pro-abortion, I think that it is one of the options and not right for everyone. It is a dangerous path to go down, how far into the future would it be, if something like this passed, before the government required women to get pregnant and have children? It sounds crazy now, but who knows what could happen when they start taking away your right to choose.

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

      exactly, I'm pro choice, but I've never had an abortion, hope to never get one, but I'm not interested in telling other women what to do with thier bodies, I didn't stick my nose into the personhood issue till they messed with birthcontrol, I take a birth control pill every day & that's my right. I don't want kids I can't afford, ever. someone else mentioned getting my tubes tied, watch, those idiots will try & outlaw that next.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Catherine

      That happned in Romania in the mid 70's, around the time Roe v wade passed here, the Romanian dictator forced woman under 35 to get pregnant if they weren't already.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Catherine

    Funny, they care so much about life, there's 7 billion now, how many already hungry people could the folks that spent thier time & money on the vote for personhood hepled out? How many of them cross the street if they see a homeless person?

    November 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jess C

    Can't these people put this to rest and focus on what really matters in this country...actually the world at this point? Jobs and the economy should remain the focus right now. Quit w/the distractions. Don't get an abortion if you freakin' don't want one. Otherwise, shut the hell up about it!

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

      You're right, the world can only work on one problem at a time.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ashley

    Also take note: none of my arguments against abortion or personhood were in anyway based on religion.

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

      nor were they based on science or correct terminology

      November 9, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. bookgirl

    Maybe they'll do us all a favor and off themselves.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. I. Jacoffalot

    It's as easy as 1, 2, 3!
    1. Humans are mammals
    2. Mammals are born live
    3. Humans become humans when they're born or when they are capable of surviving outside of the womb.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jeff

    If life is so important, where's the amendment to make divorce illegal so that children won't be forced into poverty when mommy or daddy decide they have irreconcilable differences? The pro-lifers don't care if children live in povery and misery as long as they live long enough to die as soldiers in pointless wars.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. southside nike

    Whats next for the religious zealots?
    Go home, pray to your God, live YOUR life the best you can,
    and stop trying to tell everyone else how to live THEIR lives!

    November 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. conoclast

    Could it be? Could the American voter NOT be the malleable ignorant fool the radical-right was betting on - even those in Mississippi? Is there really a Thinking America that refuses to be bullied by fascist ideologs? Maybe there's a chance the country will survive yet!

    November 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. No

    Only 3 is relevant and your opinion is incorrect. The matter of personhood came up for a vote because, collectively, we haven't decided when someone is considered a person.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. OMG!

    So, is a corporation a person as soon as incorporation papers are filed?

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

      As soon as you hire your first lobbyist, because you don't exist to the government before that.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
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