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. MarshalRight

    The problem here is people using abortion as "afterthought birth control", admittedly there is a BIG overpopulation problem. The bottom line here is that the Kook fringes on BOTH sides of this issue have created problems. On one hand we have the clinic bombers. On the other hand we have the people who want lots of abortions and more than two genders and children turning their parents over to the Social Police (social workers). Left and right have both committed excesses here.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • phoodphite

      The world is in total denial about the population problem and where it is rapidly leading us.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jessy

    I don't get it. Where did these religious zealots come from? They're pro-life but anti- welfare, anti social security, and anything that has the government giving money to those that need it. The people that need it are usually low-income families with no other choice. Come to think of it, the term "pro-life" should be re-evaluated. Life is more than a baby. You have a baby, then what? Having kids are expensive and not everyone has the money to lounge around and protest for the rights of a group of cells. I love kids, but lets be rational. Most women that choose to have their pregnancies terminated do it as a last resort. The procedure takes a psychological tole on a woman. My these "pro-lifers" have no consideration for the lives of these women. I'm happy (and amazed I must admit) that rational people shot down the measure.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      Ah loooooooves Jayziss and I don't cayure what y'all's say – the church is alwuz right! Yay Jayziss!

      November 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tim O

    Funny how the far right say they want less government, but in the same breath they ask for more. You cannot have it both ways......Just another example of the far right trying to out crazy each other. It is getting to the point where they are like this Monthy Python Skit.....See who can out crazy the other guy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo

    November 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JeramieH

    I'm not the one claiming that totipotency is a criterion for life, you are.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    What's next? the article asks. They will go back to their caves and try to make fire. And pick dirt and bugs from their mate's back fur.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lineman

    It is hard to define scientifically when an individual life actually begins. There is, of course, no break in the chain of life from one generation to another. Life can only come from life. Life at conception is only one cell and in the normal course of human reproduction that one cell is a long way from becoming a complete human being. Most do not make it at all. In the absense of a definite scientific definition of the beginning of individual life then the matter is left to the opinion of each person ( at least in an open society like ours). When listening to people express their views on this they all seem to have very good reasons for their thinking. The problems arise when people cannot convince others of their views and try to impose them through passage of laws. This never has nor will ever work because no matter what a person thinks they will never let another force them to think another way.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • JeramieH

      It's not a problem for science... science has defined the issue by showing us how it's a long, continuous slide from 1 cell to trillions. It's more of a linguistic (or philosophical) problem that words like "life" and "person" are not concretely defined. We're trying to force a black-or-white definition onto a grey term, and everybody is drawing their line differently.

      November 9, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. trainer

    ...I completely agree!

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

    I have a suggestion for the Personhood people. If you would put all that time, effort and MONEY into HELPING the babies and children that are ALREADY BORN, YOU would have a very successful respected organization. But you will NOT get any votes or respect trying to PUSH YOUR views on others. Period

    November 9, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Summ1Dial911

    I'm tired of hearing about people from MS being stupid.. It's sad as the southern part of MS is more progressive than the backwoods North.. The whole state isn't as completely brain dead and redneck as your "Mississippi Burning" stereotype.. We have two major military bases here on the coast as well as one military port.. Most people from all across the country retire here because of the warm climate.. We are less than an hour away from Democratically held New Orleans and semi-diverse Mobile.. We have a huge influx of former Las Vegas citizens due to the casinos and value diversity to boost tourism.. Both of these makes the pan handle of the state just like the rest of the country.. As a gay citizen of MS, I can easily condemn what the stupid Californians did on Prop 8.. Are all of them stupid.. We have our nuts jobs just like the rest of you and your states have them too..

    November 9, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Summ1Dial911

      And sorry for the typos as I was posting this in the middle of my COMPUTER SCIENCE class on my iPad.. Wow! We are just like you!

      November 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • librababy

      why weren't you paying attention to the class?? 😛

      November 9, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Summ1Dial911

      Break time... 🙂

      November 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jk

    It couldn't simply be that Americans can no longer be pigeonholed as right-wing and left-wing and are no longer easily tricked by nonsensical extremist wedge issues. That would be too terrifying to the two-party system and the lazy mass media.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Paul G

    I hope next is just a number of very expensive failed campaigns that drain any funds this stupid movement might have. Instead of spending the money caring for poor kids that NEED the help these clowns go around the country trying to impose stupid religious based doctrines on others.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rich

    The people should keep what they leard in church IN CHURCH not push their holy ideas on everybody.....Like a god would really care one way or the other...

    November 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. michael smith

    Wow, what the Republicans will do to increase their ranks. Of more compelling interest, what to do about the 10% of "persons" that will grow up being gay? Should we kill them while they're just little Zygotes, or should we simply make life so miserable for them that they will commit suicide?

    November 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. James Ronaldo

    I could care less whether or not Mississippi pass the measure. I would never live in Mississipping. I don't even like driving thru the state. The only two states I can think that could pass a measure like this is Mississippi and Utah. Is it a coincident all the blue states are rich and people are well educated and the red states are the exact opposite? It's funny how the people who needs government programs the most are the ones agains it.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Phillyrules

    Congratulations to the state of Mississippi for voting as Americans and not as stereotypical Southerners. No matter what one's personal beliefs may be, nobody and especially the government has the right to tell a woman what she can and can't do with her own body. I applaud the people of Mississippi for their honest assessment of the proposed amendment.

    November 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
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