On Nov. 8, Mississippi voters overwhelmingly said “no” to a constitutional amendment that would have codified that life begins at the moment of conception and a fertilized egg has full legal rights as a person. Initiative 26 failed with 55 percent of the voters against and 45 percent in favor.
The consequences of this amendment would have been dire and far reaching since it would have banned abortion in virtually all cases (including rape and incest), as well as making many forms of contraception illegal. The language of the amendment was so broad, it could have allowed for criminal investigations of women who miscarry.
One of the Religious Right organizations that drove the proposal is Personhood USA, a Colorado-based group that describes itself as a “Christian Ministry that welcomes those who believe in the God-given right to life.” Among the group’s stated goals are glorifying Jesus Christ and “protecting every child by love and by law.”
Unfortunately, Personhood USA isn’t going to back down from its agenda that ignores women’s rights and seeks to infuse state law with church doctrine. The group has sponsored “personhood” amendments in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, both of which failed, in addition to the one yesterday in Mississippi.
Keith Mason, co-founder of Personhood USA, told the Associated Press (AP) that his group might attempt another shot at a Mississippi ballot initiative and that his organization is pushing for “personhood” amendments on the 2012 ballots in Ohio, Florida, Montana, Oregon, California and Nevada.
As for Mississippi, Mason told the AP that the ballot initiative failed “not because the people are not pro-life. It's because Planned Parenthood put a lot of misconceptions and lies in front of folks and created a lot of confusion."
Kudos to Planned Parenthood for helping foil Mason’s scheme, but I suspect there was another factor at work: the amendment would have gone way too far even for those who are anti-abortion.
CNN published a piece Nov. 7 that featured the story of the Carpenter family of Columbus, Miss. The Carpenters consider themselves devout Christians who pray before every meal and are pro-life, according to the report. They also have a four-year old son, Luke, who was born thanks to in vitro fertilization, a procedure that would have been severely limited had Initiative 26 passed. The Carpenters said they would like to have another child and will again use in vitro fertilization.
"I don't really want or need anybody else getting involved in trying to limit how [in vitro fertilization] works for us, or stopping it," said Robin Carpenter. "We need to have the same rights to have a family as anybody else does."
Even Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) was reluctant to vote for the amendment, though he ultimately did so. Barbour told Fox News in a television interview last week: “Some very strongly pro-life people have raised questions about the ambiguity and about the actual consequences of whether there are unforeseen, unintended consequences. And I’ll have to say that I have heard those concerns, and they give me some pause.”
If Personhood USA can’t get whole-hearted support from someone like Barbour, or some devout Christians who are pro-life, there must be something really, really wrong with its ballot initiative.
Let’s hope more “personhood” amendments don’t make their way onto the ballots in the states being targeted for 2012. Voters must continue to send the message that they won’t allow groups like Personhood USA to tread on the rights of women or to ignore church-state separation.