Mississippi Voters May Change Abortion Debate

Mississippi’s efforts to define "personhood" could undercut case for decriminalized abortion.

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The question of when life begins may be given needed clarity this November as voters in Mississippi are asked to render judgment on an initiative that would define "personhood."

The amendment would, if enacted, add "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof" to the state constitution.

Mississippi citizens collected over 130,000 signatures, 40,000 more than were needed to qualify it for the Nov. 8, 2011 ballot.

[See the month's best political cartoons.]

According to Keith Mason, the president of Personhood USA--a group backing the initiative--its purpose "is to guarantee the equal and inalienable rights of every human being, no matter their age or any number of accidental characteristics such as race, gender, disability, or method of reproduction."

The measure is drawing strong support across the state, with some polls showing an excess of 80 percent support for it. It has also been endorsed by Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is running for governor, Attorney General Jim Hood, and both of their opponents in the general election. It also enjoys wide bi-partisan support among candidate for the state legislature. 

Opposing Initiative 26 are the state's chapter of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union, which are making a procedural case against it--a tactic the state Supreme Court rejected--rather than arguing that it is unconstitutional or in some way runs counter to the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Roe vs. Wade which legalized abortion on demand through the ninth month of pregnancy.

[Read: Pressure Mounts on Defunding Planned Parenthood Over Abortion]

In fact, say supporters like Mason, the language of the initiative could pull the rug out from under Roe. Writing for the majority, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, "If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case [for decriminalized abortion], of course, collapses, for the fetus's right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment."

The effort is part of a larger, global movement to define when life begins in an effort to undercut the case for legalized abortion. Should the measure in Mississippi succeed then the debate here in the United States would take on a whole new life.

  • Washington Whispers: Rick Perry Promises Pro-Life Vice President
  • Read: Pressure Mounts on Defunding Planned Parenthood Over Abortion
  • See the month's best political cartoons.