Failed in Colorado, anti-abortion personhood movement winning in Mississippi

Colorado voters in 2008 and 2010 roundly rejected “personhood” initiatives that aimed to grant full legal rights to human eggs from the moment of fertilization. The national organization behind the idea, Personhood USA, then took its campaign to Mississippi, betting the state’s large bloc of religious voters might put it over the top and set the stage to challenge Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973.

The personhood proposal would criminalize abortion without exception and outlaw some methods of birth control. The rights of pregnant women would be curtailed. The bill would shut down much of fertility and stem-cell research industries in the state, a fact which weighed strongly against the proposal in Colorado, where the biotech sector thrives.

Most of Colorado’s major Republican candidates for office in 2008 rejected the proposal as overreaching. In the tea party election of 2010, however, all of the major Republican candidates endorsed it. Fourth District freshman Representative Cory Gardner at a tea party candidate forum said he had circulated copies of the initiative at his church.

The Republican and the Democratic candidate for governor in Mississippi have endorsed the proposal, as did the state legislature, which has to approve initiatives before they land on the ballot.

Indeed, Colorado has a much looser initiative system than does Mississippi. In the roughly 30 years that the initiative system has been in place there, only two initiatives have ever made it to the ballot, according to Stateline.

The personhood measure crossed Mississippi’s high procedural hurdles this week, another product of the Republican wave-election of 2010.


The ballot measure comes after a historic legislative year in which states enacted more than 80 new restrictions on abortion, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. This year’s flurry of laws is more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005, the institute says. But none are like the measure that Mississippi voters are expected to consider November 8.

Backers of the Mississippi measure are clear: If approved, they say, the initiative would ultimately outlaw abortion and human cloning, embryo stem cell research, and “other forms of medical cannibalism. would be effectively stopped.” Opponents say the measure could make in-vitro fertilization and certain forms of birth control illegal “and miscarriages could become suspect.”

The hard line drawn by the initiatve pleases its backers but it also raises alarm bells for pro-life strategists looking to successfully challenge Roe. They say the bill is sure to be struck down as violating federal law and that such a decision would create even stronger precedent in support of the legalized abortion status quo.

In its report today on the Mississippi proposal, Stateline echoes much of the commentary around the bill that emerged during the last two elections in Colorado. The organization quotes University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket.

“[Personhood] was widely seen as a radical proposal that would require massive changes in state law.”

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