Mississippi ‘Personhood’ Amendment Trounced

Mississippi voters easily defeated an amendment to the state constitution that declared life begins at conception.

Mississippi voters easily defeated an amendment to the state constitution that declared life begins at conception.

WaPo (“Anti-abortion ‘personhood’ amendment fails in Mississippi“):

A constitutional amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person failed on the ballot in Mississippi on Tuesday, dealing the so-called “personhood” movement another blow.

Mississippi would have become the first state to define a fertilized egg as a person, a measure which was aimed at outlawing abortion in the state but, opponents contended, would have led to all kinds of unintended consequences.

In the end, those concerns won out in a strongly anti-abortion state. The amendment trailed 59 percent to 41 percent with more than half of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has said it will fail.

Had the measure passed, many thought it would have led to a new natiowide dialogue on abortion.

The measure earned the support of both Republicans and Democrats in Mississippi — including both of the major parties’ nominees for governor — but some of them hesitated to support it, including outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour (R).

Opponents say that measure could have criminalized birth control, affected in vitro fertilization practices and even forced doctors to decline to provide pregnant cancer patients with chemotherapy for fear of legal repercussions.

The measure stands at 58 No, 42 Yes with 96 percent of precincts reporting. And this is in a contest where Republican Phil Bryant beat Democrat Johnny DuPree 61 to 39, meaning the electorate was not only overwhelmingly Republican and motivated but that a goodly number “split their ballot,” so to speak.

Naturally, advocates aren’t going to give up.

Jackson Clarion-Ledger (“Personhood rejected; Supporter [sic] vows to continue fight“):

Opponents of Initiative 26 said they were encouraged by Mississippi voters’ defeat Tuesday of the controversial Personhood Amendment.

But proponents were not discouraged. ”We are disappointed, but not discouraged. We are going to continue the fight for those who can’t fight for themselves,” said the Rev. Jimmy Porter, executive director of the Christian Action Commission of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, which endorsed the amendment.


Atlee Breland, 34, of Brandon, who fought against the Initiative 26, said she was encouraged by the outcome. ”Oh, my gosh, as a mother who struggled and fought to have a family through in vitro fertilization, the idea that this could be taken away from women like me was terrifying,” she said. ”To know that voters stood up for the right of women to have a family this way and to use the forms of birth control we want … it’s just amazing.” Breland, who has been active in the Parents Against Mississippi 26 group, said she has three children because of in vitro fertilization and believes the initiative could have forced IVF specialists to leave the state.

Supporters of the proposal said the amendment would not have eliminated IVF. They also denied it would have resulted in a ban on all birth control pills and prevented physicians from saving the life of the mother in problem pregnancies – additional fears of many dissenters.

Objectors also raised the specter of legal challenges. Most of all, many said, the amendment allowed no exceptions for abortions in cases of incest or rape – a claim not disputed by proponents, who are trying to end abortion in the state.

In a statement from the anti-initiative group Mississippians for Healthy Families, spokeswoman Valencia Robinson said, “… (W)e were successful because Mississippi voters ultimately understood that there is no contradiction in being pro-life and standing in opposition to an initiative that threatened the health and very lives of women.”

The issue split religious leaders and members of the medical community. Many held competing rallies to try and sway voters with moral, legal or religious arguments.

The bottom line is that, even in a very religious state that’s staunchly anti-abortion, defining life as beginning at the instant of fertilization raises enough questions that it’s not popular. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that, since abortion is explicitly defined as a federal Constitutional right by a long string of Supreme Court cases going back to 1973, it simply can’t be banned by states and localities. So, Mississippi voters wisely decided against a futile effort that would have created thousands of expensive legal cases and potentially outlawed all manner of practices widely accepted in the state.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Vast Variety says:

    Why is it that the conservatives who have been rallying around limited government so much lately seem intent on expanding government through these attempts at banning abortion and interfering with the marriage rights of gays and lesbians?

  2. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    Of course, cynical old me is not so sure that the additional problems the amendment would have had are all that “unintended.” I know many Christians who believe that birth control is abortifacient and who disapprove of all manner of medical interventions that expose unborn children to risk.

    What they don’t seem to believe in is the power of their faith–electing to rely on legal chicanery instead. Christianity genuinely changes lives and in its classic applications relies on its power to elicit that change to change society.

    I guess no one has that much faith anymore.

  3. SteveP says:

    I regard abortion as premeditated murder and want it banned and I voted against this initiative. Most of the people I talked to in recent days, many of whom believe that abortion is murder, said that they would vote against it.
    The “unintended consequences” were cited as the reason for opposition by nearly everyone I talked to.
    Most people around here support it in principle but this particular bill was just ill conceived and poorly worded. Expect to see a personhood amendment come up again soon.

  4. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Not surprising. We’ve seen a similar result on a similar referendum in South Dakota, hardly a liberal bastion. Although the “single-issue” right has a large microphone they are in fact a decided minority, even among social conservatives. People who vote in this country — typically parents in between the ages of 40 and 60 — have much more moderate views on abortion and related matters. Hopefully the extreme anti-abortion right will observe this result and will catch a clue. Alas, I would not hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

  5. Janis Gore says:

    Personhood amendments are part of an insidious plot to instate more oral and anal sex, masturbation and pornography.

  6. Curtis says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice to have a “new nationwide dialogue on abortion” as the AP has suggested. The problem is that each poltiical party has a vocal minority that is the tail wagging the dog. Abortion is a real and serious issue. I don’t regard abortion as pre-meditated murder the way SteveP does, and yet I’d reckon he and I could sit down and be able to agree on a whole lot of things, and we could craft a compromise where we’d each like it better than the status quo.

    But that would involve each side giving up using abortion as a pipeline to the pockets of its true believers, which is just another way of saying it ain’t gonna happen.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    @Curtis: The interesting thing here is how far off the polls were – it was supposed to be close and it wasn’t. We saw the same thing in North Dakota. Why is this? Amanda Marcotte:

    It’s not something I’ve ever seen an extensive study on, but the folk wisdom of pro-choice circles is “pro-life in the streets, pro-choice in the dark”, as it were. In other words, there’s an intense amount of pressure to identify as “pro-life” in conservative communities, even if you secretly disagree. To be vocally pro-choice is to be marked as a pervert and a feminist, and so it’s avoided, to the point where some polling data suggests that half of people who identify as “pro-life” are actually pro-choice, at least to some extent.

  8. Azathoth says:

    Personally, I’m in favor of abortion, but only prior to the 16th birthday..

  9. Anderson says:

    @Janis Gore:

    Well, damn, if I’d known that, I’d have voted “yes”!

  10. SteveP says:


    We might be able to compromise and agree on a lot of things but the evil of abortion isn’t one of them. This has nothing to do with women’s rights and everything to do with protecting the lives of the most innocent and helpless human beings.
    Killing a child because it’s inconvenient or because of how it was conceived is murder, no matter how much sugar you coat it with. There is no right to murder.

  11. Janis Gore says:

    I used an IUD successfully as a contraceptive device for 20 years. Your amendment casts me as one of the most active serial murderers in history.

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @SteveP: I see you don’t know much law, do you?

    There are quite a lot of cases where killing another human being is accepted or is at least not considered murder. Look up self-defense, accidental manslaughter, and war before you get righteous.

    And stop equating a zygote to a baby. It isn’t.

  13. SteveP says:

    @grumpy realist:


    Apparently I know more law than you.
    I know that there is a huge difference between killing someone who is trying to kill you (self defense), accidentally killing someone during an otherwise illegal act (manslaughter), and organized violence between opposing countries (war), which are all justifiable or accidental homicide, and the intentional killing of innocents, which is the definition of murder.
    If you practice criminal law I pity your clients.
    Having a BS in botany I know the difference between a zygote and a baby. The only place I equated them was in your mind. It certainly wasn’t in anything I wrote.