Mississippians will vote on a “personhood” ballot amendment Tuesday that would define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization, which would ban abortions as well as some types of birth control.
Personhood USA is a Colorado-based group that has been running a nationwide campaign to get states to define a fertilized human egg as a person, which would effectively label all abortions as murders. In Mississippi, Personhood Mississippi founder Les Riley drafted a ballot initiative called “Yes On 26” that collected over 130,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Brad Prewitt, a lawyer and executive director of the Yes on 26, has called the morning-after-pill a “human pesticide.”
Proposition 26 asks voters: “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?”
The New York Times runs down the potential effects of the vague wording in the measure:
The amendment in Mississippi would ban virtually all abortions, including those resulting from rape or incest. It would bar some birth control methods, including IUDs and “morning-after pills,” which prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. It would also outlaw the destruction of embryos created in laboratories.
This last part relates to in vitro fertilization, which Keith Mason, the president of Personhood USA, allows will be affected by Proposition 26. “It would ban some current practices of IVF,” he told Michelle Goldberg of The Daily Beast.
Some anti-abortion activists, like James Bopp Jr., the general counsel of National Right to Life, say that the measure would not survive a Supreme Court challenge because it contradicts current federal law. “From the standpoint of protecting unborn lives it’s utterly futile,” Bopp told the Times, “and it has the grave risk that if it did get to the Supreme Court, the court would write an even more extreme abortion policy.”
Gov. Haley Barbour (R) even hinted last week that he might vote against it. “I believe life begins at conception,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn’t say that. It says life begins at fertilization, or cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning. And I’m talking about people that are very, outspokenly pro-life.”
Barbour backtracked after his comments were used for robocalls criticizing the initiative: “As I’ve previously stated, I voted for the Personhood Amendment. These misleading calls were made without my knowledge, without my permission and against my wishes. I have demanded this deception be stopped, and those responsible have assured me that no more calls will be made.”
Les Riley, who drafted the measure, has a long and colorful history in the fringes of right-wing politics. Tim Murphy of Mother Jones reports that Riley was formerly a blogger for the Christian secessionist group Christian Exodus, and is currently the Chairman of the Mississippi Constitution Party, which purports to aim to “restore” the government’s “Biblical presuppositions.”
According to one PPP Poll, the vote is pretty evenly split, with 45% of voters saying they support the amendment and 44% opposed to it. 11% are undecided.