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. Beverly NC

    Because it was an extremist violation of the rights of women, their right to the best healthcare they need, and their right to make hard personal decisions without the interference of nutjobs. For Republicans who sure scream about wanting the government out of their lives – they sure do want to legislate my life, my beliefs, and my privacy. Such hypocrites. N more Republicans in 2012. They have betrayed us enough the past 10 years. They don't care about us. They work for the corporations and are destroying our lives, jobs, our economy, and laughing at us who are not as rich as they are. They are NOT Christians and they are NOT leaders. Not one deserves to be in any elected position.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill TX

      I agree 100% on every point you made......plus I would like to add that Democrats are not much better lately. Politicians in this country need to be held to a very high standard, as they are the voice for all of us, but we, the people, must also become better educated on the true facts so that we can really understand when we are being mislead (which, for the past 30 years, has been most of the time). WAKE UP AMERICA.....STOP BEING SHEEP!!!!!

      November 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim in PA

    It was voted down because, even in Mississippi, Americans don't want to live in a theocracy. And because voters recognize that when anti-abortion folks are also hypocritically against birth control, it's not really about abortions after all; it's about controlling people.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tom

    It's good to know that reason trumped irrationality. Let women make decisions regarding their bodies. The government (mostly men, of course) have no business telling a woman what she should do with her body. These anti-choice supporters are usually very anti-government, yet they want the government telling women what they must do with their bodies. It's all very hypocritical!

    November 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim in PA

      They are only against the government when it isn't doing their bidding.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MikeMazzla

    Redneck state, with a redneck Gov pushing a ridiculous religious redneck proposal.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim in PA

      Apparently rejected by the "redneck" voters. Maybe not so redneck after all....

      November 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • cecilia

      I agree with Jim in PA – remember it got voted down by, as you say, redneck voters – go easy on the South, we do have some redeeming virtues ,
      Redneck grandmother

      November 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MarkinFL

    "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"

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
    -Albert Einstein

    November 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill TX

      Exactly.....I wish people would remember what Albert said the next time they vote during the national elections!

      November 9, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave in Portland

      Well, religion = insanity anyway.

      Any time you shut your brain off and listen to voices in your head, there is ample evidence of psychosis.

      November 9, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Larry L

    Reason prevailed! We're beginning to see the end of the right-wing extremist's irrational movement. Maybe people really do want a government designed to help people rather than serve as a mindless tool for the evangelical radicals.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. abby

    maybe it failed because there were enough people who respect science and common sense over the theocratic demands of the narrow-minded American version of the Taliban....

    November 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Republican for Obama

    Their signs say, "we choose life." Good. I choose to take the tenant out of my uterus! Don't tell me what to do with my body.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jim in PA

    Maybe the author can explain why, if abortion is the ultimate abomination, don't conservatives support birth control?

    November 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Matt

    I am just glad they voted on it. Far better to accept when people decide the matter then when 5 or 6 judges rule on it ala Roe v. Wade.

    This is a Democracy, let the PEOPLE decide whether a fetus is life or not (or at the very least doctors/medical experts and not lawyers/judges).

    November 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Matt, this is not a democracy. We are a representative form of government.
      Also, judges ruling on laws are how our founding fathers thought would be the best way to decide issues. If we allowed a direct vote on everything we would have become a theocracy a long time ago!!

      November 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. epicism

    It failed because people do not want the beliefs of others legislated upon them.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. GrogInOhio

    Answer: Right wing hypocrisy... The same people yowling about intrusive and "big government" are the very ones attempting to have the government reign supreme in the womb and in the bedroom. Oddly, conservatives can't see the irony of their selective whining.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. rabbits

    even not if the health of the mother is in jepordy!! so you kill 2 instead of 1 ? Ahhhhh i get it !! Over population control

    November 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bob

    There was plenty to object to in this bill beginning with the fact that 50% of fertilized eggs never implant and therefore never become babies. The ambiguities would likely have made the initiative, had it passed, indefensible in court. I am pro-choice but even if I were not I would still question the wisdom of using this particular approach as a means to overturn Roe v Wade. After all, a court challenge to this initiative would have used up resources that the pro-life movement would more prudently have spent elsewhere. It would likely have been successful too, as there is a great deal of religious belief incorporated in defining the beginning of life and even were the initiative to have been passed and upheld, the initiative would have created enormous, and possibly unforeseen, other First Amendment issues down the line. Once you inject the views of a particular religion into the law, how do you preserve the rights of those whose religious views differ? There would be additional issues injected into the census for example. Some of the arguments proferred in that direction might be considered borderline frivolous, but some of them could and perhaps should be taken seriously.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. bighulawood

    On the day you prove you have the means and the desire to 100% pay for, raise and support my unwanted offspring-to-be, then let's talk. Until then, butt outta my body.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      Unfortunately it's not your body that pro-life people are concerned about, it's the body of the baby growing inside of you that parents are charged with protecting. Yes, you become a parent once you conceive a child whether you intended to or not. If you think it's OK to abort a 5 or 6 month from conception baby then why can't we also kill a baby that's 2 days old if we decide we don't want it. What's the difference besides just 2-3 months of development? You decide that you don't want your son or daughter to live and you're no better than Casey Anthony.

      November 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill TX

      I agree.....and to "Jamie" conception does not make you a parent, it makes you an egg warmer to a spot that cannot be scene without a microscope. Why do peple like you take a simple statement or concept and twist it inside out to try and prove a point.....if you want people to listen to your point of view try staying on topic.....this is about "conception" not a 5 or 6 month old fetus.

      November 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave in Portland

      Jamie, you're a moron. A child that has been born is not the same as a clump of cells with no brain and no consciousness. Get a clue before you keep making a fool of yourself.

      November 9, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
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