Mississippi considers anti-abortion 'personhood amendment'
The anti-abortion movement's tactic known as a "personhood amendment," which legally defines a person as existing at the moment of fertilization, has been rejected twice in recent years by voters in Colorado.
But the effort has found new life in Mississippi, where a personhood amendment will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. Mississippi is, by some measures, the nation's most conservative state, and the proposal has earned the support of both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor, the majority of attorney general candidates, and a host of other state leaders.
If Proposition 26 passes, abortion foes hope it will build momentum for a broader national assault on Roe vs. Wade. Supporters say similar propositions will be featured on ballots in Florida, South Dakota and Ohio in 2012.
Both sides in the debate agree that the measure would outlaw abortion, even in the cases of rape and incest. But there is disagreement about what other, potentially wide-ranging effects it may have.
"Part of the concern is that it's not entirely clear what will happen if this passes," Mississippi College law professor Jonathan Will told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger recently.
The text of the measure proposes that the definition of "person" in the state constitution include "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."
Opponents fear that could ban some fertility treatments and birth-control methods, including IUDs, which prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs. In the Clarion-Ledger, Will raised the possibility that the legal voting age would actually be 17 years and 3 months after birth, and that population figures might have to be calculated with the frozen embryos housed in fertility clinics taken into account.
Michele Alexandre, an associate law professor at the University of Mississippi, is among those who worry that if Prop 26 passes, women unaware of their early pregnancy might be exposed to prosecution if they are found to have consumed alcohol or engaged in "a strenuous physical competition."
The Yes on 26 supporters argue that the amendment would not ban "most forms" of birth-control pills, though they say it would ban the pregnancy-terminating treatment known as RU486. They deny it would prohibit in vitro fertilization, though it "would not allow unused embryos to be destroyed."
They also dismiss as "silly and cruel" the suggestion that the law would result in criminal prosecutions of women who miscarry.
Personhood USA, which spearheaded the Colorado ballot measures, is heading up the Mississippi effort. The liberal investigative magazine Mother Jones notes that another major player this time around is a man named Les Riley, founder of the group Personhood Mississippi. Riley, the magazine reported, is a neo-secessionist who "once supported an effort to form an independent theocratic republic in South Carolina."