The North Dakota House of Representatives has passed the first personhood amendment in the United States, 57-35. Read more
November 6, 2011 6:32 PM
Abortion battle at crucial point in Mississippi
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The latest battle over abortion rights comes to a head on Tuesday, when Mississippi voters will consider an amendment to their state constitution that would say a human being is a person from the moment of conception.
CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston has more reports that, with religious conviction, Les Riley led the petition drive to put “Personhood” on the Mississippi ballot, which would declare that a fertilized egg is a person.
“You’re exactly the same person that you were then. The only thing that’s been added to you is time and food,” said Riley, one of the state’s chief citizen sponsors of the amendment.
Riley, a father of 10 children from Tupelo, says the constitutional amendment is intended to outlaw all abortions, with no exceptions for incest or rape.
“We don’t have the death penalty in Mississippi for rape. Why would we punish the rapist’s child?” Riley asked.
Debating Mississippi’s “Personhood Amendment”
Doctors call Mississippi “personhood” initiative dangerous
Haley Barbour “concerned” about Mississippi anti-abortion amendment
That position offends Cristen Hemmins, who is with Mississippians for Healthy Families.
“People on the ‘yes’ side keep saying to me, ‘Well, don’t punish the baby, punish the rapist.’ But what they leave out of that equation is me,” Hemmins said.
Hemmins, now married with three children, was raped at gunpoint 20 years ago on her college campus.
“If this had been in place and I had gotten pregnant, I wouldn’t have had any options. I would have been forced by the state government to bear a child, which might have killed me, physically, if not emotionally,” Hemmins said.
Mississippi’s “Personhood Amendment” is part of a national movement to restrict a woman’s ability to obtain a legal abortion. Similar efforts are underway in at least 9 other states — including Florida, Ohio, and California — to put the issue on the ballot next year.
Dr. Beverly McMillan helped “open up the first abortion clinic” in Mississippi. She said she performed abortion for three years, but had to stop.
“I lost my stomach for it,” McMillian said.
She strongly believes life begins at conception.
“It is not ethical to kill a human being because they are inconvenient or unwanted or what we consider burdensome to us,” said McMillan, who is the president of Pro-Life Mississippi.
Not all physicians agree with McMillan’s position.
“It’s going to put physicians in a position of criminal liability, potentially,” said Dr. Randall Hines, an infertility specialist.
Hines and many other Mississippi doctors say “Personhood” would bring too much government intrusion, and, they say, it’s flawed science.
“Only about 20-percent of fertilized eggs actually go on to become children, so to provide legal rights to all fertilized eggs really is not consistent with what we know about the world,” Hines said.
In Tuesday’s statewide election, both candidates for governor, Republican and Democrat, say they support “Personhood.” Already, the decades-old, anti-abortion campaign here has been successful. There’s only one clinic left in the state that provides legal abortions.
A ballot measure expected to pass in Mississippi this week would define “personhood” as beginning at the moment of fertilization or cloning. Abortion rights groups are fighting the measure, which could end up in the US Supreme Court.
By Mark Guarino, Staff writer / November 6, 2011
Parents against the Mississippi Initiative 26 attend a rally at the State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Oct. 27. Mississippi doctors against Initiative 26, also known as the Personhood Initiative, gathered at the Capitol to state reasons for their opposition. The doctor’s group is supported by the Mississippi Nurses Association which voted at their state convention to oppose the initiative.
Abortion rights in Mississippi are being tested with a referendum on the ballot Tuesday asking voters to amend the state constitution to redefine the term “person” to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization” or cloning.
Opponents charge the change – which both sides say is likely to pass – is a backdoor way to outlaw abortion that could put the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision in jeopardy. Redefining “personhood” under Mississippi’s Bill of Rights will likely lead to court battles that may end up before the US Supreme Court.
The strategy is being used in several states this year, according to Personhood USA, an Arvada, Colo. organization that provides assistance to state efforts. Besides Mississippi, petitions to put a personhood amendment on the 2012 ballot have been filed in Ohio, Nevada, and California, and there is petition activity in every other state as well.
MONITOR QUIZ: Weekly News Quiz for Oct. 30-Nov. 4, 2011
“Passing these laws in the state and building the base is the very thing that will give credibility and traction to the federal efforts … we’re essentially building political capital. Pass or fail on the ballot, we are churning up, literally, a movement,” Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA told Bloomberg News.
So far, the ballot initiative made it past the Mississippi Supreme Court, which in September dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights by saying the court could not rule on the constitutionality of the initiative before an actual vote was established.
However, opponents say they are less worried about the constitutional implications of the measure than they are about what it could mean if it became law. They say the broad language could make abortions or certain birth control methods illegal and that contraceptive pills may potentially be outlawed.
The state’s medical community also says it is under threat. They say certain surgeries performed following pregnancy complications will be outlawed because they would put the unborn at risk. The Mississippi State Medical Association, for example, is warning that doctors could be charged with murder or wrongful death for “employing techniques physicians have used for years.”
Also at risk is in vitro fertilization because it involves the freezing of leftover embryos. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine states that the measure will “thwart the ability for those who suffer from infertility to seek treatment appropriate to their disease.”
Groups supporting the amendment say Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are engaging in what they call “scare tactics.” One group, Yes on 26, says opposition groups “have a major financial and ideological interest in abortion remaining legal in the state of Mississippi.”
They insist that the amendment will not ban hormonal contraceptives or ban in vitro fertilization. Instead, they say, the amendment will outlaw destroying unused embryos. They admit that the personhood movement’s overall goal is stopping abortions, even in the case of rape or incest.
Even if voters give the amendment a green light, it will likely face a more difficult time in federal court, where several cases preceding it suggests the fight may be an uphill battle. Similar but less restrictive measures than the one in Mississippi were struck down in federal court in the past, including two in Louisiana and Utah from 1991 that included exceptions for rape and incest.
Most Mississippi state lawmakers support the amendment, as does Gov. Haley Barbour®, who told the Associated Press he voted for it by absentee ballot because he will not be home Tuesday.
Comments Gov. Barbour made last week that suggested he had concerns about the personhood movement were used in robo-calls sent by Mississippians For Healthy Families, an opposition group.
In an appearance on MSNBC, Barbour said he believes “life begins at conception.”
“Unfortunately this personhood amendment doesn’t say that,” he said. “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.”
On Friday, Barbour asked the organization to stop using his comments to suggest he was voting against the amendment, a tactic he described as deceptive.
Jackson, Miss., Nov 5, 2011 / 07:29 am (CNA).- An upcoming Mississippi ballot initiative will give voters the chance to extend the legal definition of “person” to include unborn children, from the beginning of their biological development.
“It’s a really big deal because Mississippi is one of most pro-life states in America, and it looks like it’s going to be the first to pass,” said Keith Mason, president and co-founder of Personhood USA.
Mississippi voters will determine the fate of Amendment 26, known as the “Personhood Amendment,” on Nov. 8.
Mason said in an interview with CNA that he hopes a victory in Mississippi will give “a lot of enthusiasm and adrenaline to the pro-life movement.”
He explained that the amendment has enjoyed wide bipartisan support, including that of Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is running for governor of Mississippi.
On Nov. 4, the measure gained the support of the state’s current governor, Haley Barbour, who cautiously voiced his support for the amendment.
“I have some concerns about it,” Barbour said. “But I think all in all, I believe life begins at conception, so I think the right thing to do was to vote for it.”
Catholic Bishop Joseph N. Latino of Jackson was also circumspect about the amendment, stating that “the Diocese is not taking a position for or against Proposition 26.”
In an Oct. 28 letter, Bishop Latino expressed support for the goal of the amendment but raised concerns about the unintended legal challenges it could raise because of the many references to “persons” in various state laws.
He said individual Catholics should “make their own choice on the initiative based on an informed conscience.”
Personhood USA has spent several years working through voter ballot initiatives to put amendments before the people.
The non-profit organization was able to add personhood amendments on the ballot in Colorado in 2008 and 2010.
Both amendments failed, but the support for the amendment increased from the first election to the second.
“What happened in Colorado is a lesson for the entire nation,” said Mason.
He explained that the demographics of Colorado make it a “test market state” and allow it to be used as a template for the rest of the country.
The amendments in Colorado illustrated an incremental positive effect, something that Mason views as key in ultimately banning abortion across the nation.
Mason has studied how the momentum of social movements has historically grown. Using the examples of the abolition of the slave trade, the civil rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement, he explained that a correlation exists between public awareness of a social movement and support for the movement.
Ballot initiatives to allow women’s suffrage were introduced year after year in South Dakota, Mason explained. Although they continued to be defeated, they gained support every year that they were on the ballot, until women eventually secured the right to vote.
“Coming back repetitively, again and again, and pushing our message and just tirelessly fighting for the dignity of those pre-born children is the path to victory in America,” he said.
Mason acknowledged that a victory in Mississippi could lead to the issue being brought before the Supreme Court.
If the state of Mississippi acknowledges unborn human beings as persons, a 10th Amendment battle could be raised, with the state of Mississippi holding a different interpretation that that of the federal government, he said.
However, the Supreme Court is not Mason’s ultimate goal.
“This could rise or fall in the Supreme Court many, many times,” he explained.
Rather, the goal is to raise awareness about “a federal constitutional amendment.”
“Raising awareness is one of the biggest keys to actually winning this issue,” he said.
Mason believes that local efforts to raise awareness have already yielded positive results.
“The personhood protection in the 14th Amendment is being debated now in the presidential debates,” he said. “That’s largely because we’re stirring things up on the grassroots level.”
In recent months, Personhood USA has been gathering signatures to put an amendment on the ballot in other states, including Florida, Ohio, Montana, Nevada, California and Colorado.
“So this is going to set us up well for 2012 to make human dignity a major issue of the next election cycle,” Mason explained.
“We’re at the cusp of a defining moment for the pro-life movement this year in Mississippi,” he said.
“It’s going to be great.”
Personhood USA Applauds Findings of New Report Detailing Legal Effects of Mississippi Personhood Amendment 26
Personhood USA says new report confirms “the rights of the preborn, as affirmed by the Mississippi Personhood Amendment, will not take precedence.”
Jackson, MS (PRWEB) November 05, 2011
In a new report titled “Personhood Amendment Will Not Change Legal Safeguards for Physicians Providing Necessary Treatment to Pregnant Patients,” the Mississippi Center for Public Policy analyzes the legal effects of enacting the Mississippi Personhood Amendment, Initiative 26. The analysis can be read at: http://www.mspolicy.com.
“The Mississippi Center for Public Policy has received many questions about the legal implications of Ballot Initiative 26 – The Personhood Amendment. One question that stands out is whether the amendment would subject medical professionals to prosecution for performing life-saving procedures, such as treating a woman for cancer or terminating an ectopic pregnancy,” writes co-author and Policy Analyst George S. Whitten, Jr., Esq.
“Personhood USA is pleased that an independent organization has taken the time to write this assessment and clear up any confusion,” said Personhood USA Legal Analyst Gualberto Garcia Jones, J.D.
As to the claim that Amendment 26 will prohibit life-saving medical care, it reads: “Mississippi law permits abortion in order to save the life of the mother. Our statutes already exempt physicians from being prosecuted for terminating an ectopic pregnancy. Passage of the Personhood Amendment would not change these statutes.”
Whitten writes: “Mississippi law protects medical professionals from criminal liability for the accidental homicide of an unborn person. Under the Personhood Amendment, there will continue to be no criminal liability for medical professionals who prescribe a medication fatal to an unborn baby to treat a female patient whose pregnancy was unknown and was not reasonably discoverable.”
Answering questions regarding in vitro fertilization, he continues: “IVF assists in reproducing a human life. By contrast, abortion necessarily involves killing a human life. IVF procedures can be performed without destroying human embryos, and therefore would still be permissible under Initiative 26. As is currently being done in many cases, any excess embryos not implanted in the womb could be frozen and implanted later or adopted out to other parents.”
“Before birth, we are persons, not property,” continued Garcia Jones. “Amendment 26 simply ends the destruction by recognizing our right to live at this age.”
Co-author and Vice President for Policy Jameson Taylor, Ph.D. concludes: “[I]f an unborn child’s death is accidental or necessary to save his mother’s life, there is no justifiable legal or ethical ground for prosecuting a physician who terminates an ectopic pregnancy or who prescribes medication injurious to an unborn child – either under current law, or under a state constitution that recognizes the basic fact that life begins at fertilization.”
“Despite all of the media attention focusing on unsubstantiated concerns, this third party analysis confirms what supporters of Amendment 26 have been saying all along—the rights of the preborn, as affirmed by the Mississippi Personhood Amendment, will not take precedence over those of the mother,” stated Garcia Jones, J.D. “In fact, as it is written to protect every human being, both born and unborn, it will simply validate the equal and inalienable rights of all people and facilitate a just society.”
Colleen Jenkins Reuters
10:38 a.m. CDT, November 5, 2011
(Reuters) – Mississippi on Tuesday could be the first state in the nation to define a fertilized egg as a person, a controversial concept aimed at outlawing abortion, some types of birth control and infertility methods that result in the loss of embryos.
The so-called “personhood amendment” to the state constitution represents a twist in strategy for anti-abortion efforts, which have notched great success across the country this year with dozens of new restrictions put into law.
Proponents of the Mississippi ballot initiative said a win on Tuesday would bolster similar efforts geared for the 2012 elections in states including Florida, Ohio and Colorado. They said it would help their ultimate goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision making abortion legal.
“Mississippi is one step in a lengthy process,” said Jennifer Mason, spokeswoman for the Colorado-based Personhood USA organization. “We’re looking at a coordinated effort from many states in order to see real change in the United States.”
Critics of the Mississippi measure say defining a person as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof” amounts to an extreme government intrusion that could effectively criminalize routine medical care and endanger women’s lives.
Opponents, including the state’s medical and nurses associations, have stepped up their criticism in the weeks leading up to the election, resulting in dueling news conferences and fact sheets presenting each side’s version of the likely effects of the constitutional amendment.
All agree the proposed amendment would ban abortion without exceptions for rape or incest victims and also outlaw some forms of hormonal contraceptives, though there is dispute over which ones.
Advocates say the initiative would not bar in-vitro fertilization but would prevent unused embryos from being destroyed. They argue critics have resorted to “scare tactics” in claiming doctors would be kept from performing life-saving treatments for women with medically complex pregnancies.
“It’s not really scare tactics. We’re really scared,” said Dr. Randall Hines, an infertility specialist in the Jackson, Mississippi area. “This amendment represents the greatest moment of government interference in the delivery of health care that we’ve ever seen.”
PAST ‘PERSONHOOD’ VOTES FAILED
The two previous attempts to get voters to declare a fertilized egg a legal person were in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, and both efforts failed to pass by wide margins.
But the political climate has been friendly toward tightening abortion laws this year. Eighty-four new restrictions became law, the most ever in such a short stretch, said Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health issues.
In Mississippi, a conservative and religious state with a single abortion clinic, backers of the personhood amendment collected more than 100,000 signatures from registered voters to get the initiative on the ballot.
The Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates each have pledged support for the amendment, and current Republican Governor Haley Barbour, who cannot run again because of term limits, said he voted for it despite having concerns about some of its medical ramifications.
The initiative will probably pass but likely not withstand the anticipated legal challenges, said Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.
“Mississippi can’t negate Roe v. Wade, which this would do,” he told Reuters. But “who knows the twists and turns it is going to take before it is shot down by the Supreme Court.”
Though many faith leaders favor the amendment, the solidly pro-life Catholic Diocese of Jackson and other religious leaders have spoken out against it as an ill-advised approach that will either get struck down by federal courts or lead to a judicial reaffirmation of abortion rights.
“The unintended effect would very likely jeopardize current protections in state law and cause a loss of momentum in the ultimate goal of establishing full legal protection of the unborn from the moment of conception,” the diocese said in a statement.
Dr. Freda Bush, a Jackson obstetrician gynecologist who has been a vocal proponent of the ballot initiative, said she hoped voters recognized that the measure would not disrupt the sound practice of medicine but instead would re-establish “a culture of life” in Mississippi.
“If we’re going to value life and protect life after it’s born, why not start at the beginning?” she said.
(Editing by Greg McCune)
On November 8, the citizens of Mississippi will vote on a controversial amendment that would define every human being as a person from the moment of conception. The measure, known officially as Proposition 26, is one of six personhood amendments proposed for addition to state constitutions around the country.
Proposition 26 will appear on a statewide ballot after passing successfully through the Mississippi Supreme Court in September. If the measure is voted in, an amendment will be added to the Mississippi constitution that will state in part:Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: Section 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hereby amended by the addition of a new section to read: Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.
Not all pro-life forces are equally committed to supporting personhood amendments. Some of the oldest foes of abortion, such as the National Right to Life Committee and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have opted not to make personhood amendments a primary focus, possibly due to concern that the sweeping amendments are hasty and could backfire.
“Right now the focus of the National Right to Life Political Action Committee is on electing a pro-life president, and pro-life majorities in Congress,” said Jessica Rodgers of the National Right to Life Committee.
Nonetheless, few abortion foes would argue with the ideology behind the proposed amendments.
“National Right to Life believes that the unborn child is a person,” Rodgers said, a position that most pro-lifers share, and that Proposition 26 would codify into law.
More by Theresa Civantos* Medieval Castaway * The Book of Ruth * Standing Strong * Loyalty * The Pope Defends Liberal Education
So far, none of the other personhood amendments have advanced as far as Proposition 26 in Mississippi. Whether the measure advances all the way to becoming law will be determined November 8.
Theresa Civantos is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.
Mississippi Republican governor Haley Barbour seems to have entered the debate over a controversial “personhood” amendment, calling on opponents of the measure to cease using a recording of his voice.
Mr. Barbour, who is set to step down as governor later this year, said Friday he has requested a group opposing the ballot initiative to stop using a recording of his voice in automated phone calls asking voters to oppose the measure.
The measure, which is set to face a vote on Tuesday, would define life as beginning at “fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof.” Supporters of the measure say it would allow for bans on abortion. Opponents of the measure say it is the latest attempt to curtail the right of women to seek an abortion.
The recording, which uses a statement made by Mr. Barbour earlier this year, was sent to supporters throughout the state, calling for voters to oppose the measure.
“I’m pro-life,” Mr. Barbour said during an appearance on MSNBC. “Americans United for Life picked me their man of the year several years ago. I believe life begins at conception. 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 who are very outspokenly pro-life.”
In a statement released Friday, Mr. Barbour said he plans to support the amendment. The Republican governor also called on opponents to cease using the clip.
“A pro-abortion group has called people’s homes and deceived voters into thinking I’m opposed to Initiative 26, the Personhood Amendment,” Mr. Barbour said. “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.”
In recent years, a number of states have considered and rejected similar proposals, most notably Colorado, where propositions were voted down in 2008 and 2010. Those efforts and the one in Mississippi were backed by Personhood USA, a Colorado-based group that has attracted antiabortion activists fed up with waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to tilt in their favor
Group hopes to define a fertilized human egg as human under state Constitution - Tallahassee Times/Herald
A referendum on the issue Tuesday in Mississippi could be a precursor to a similar drive in Florida, where supporters are gathering signatures to allow voters to decide eventually on a constitutional amendment.
By Katie Sanders
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE — Voters in Mississippi will decide Tuesday whether a fertilized human egg should be recognized as a person under the state constitution, an anti-abortion strategy that a group of Christian conservatives hopes to mimic in Florida.
The “personhood” amendment would define a human being “from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof.”
If it passes in Mississippi — a poll released Sunday found that 45 percent of voters supported the amendment, while 44 percent opposed it — the amendment could lead to the banning of all abortions in the state as well as some forms of birth control.
Personhood USA, the Colorado group behind the Mississippi ballot question, has been collecting petition signatures to bring a similar proposal to Florida.
But Florida election laws already have dashed the hopes of the group to have the measure appear on a statewide ballot next year.
The group needs 676,811 petition signatures in Florida — 8 percent of votes cast during the 2008 presidential election — to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.
And those petitions must be certified by local elections supervisors and turned into the Secretary of State by Feb. 1.
Personhood Florida state coordinator Brenda MacMenamin said the group has so far gathered only about 20,000 petition signatures. (Those signatures also will soon become worthless because of changes in state law requiring all petitions to be gathered within two years.)
MacMenamin said Monday that petition gatherers will start over next year in hopes of making the 2014 ballot.
“We have built a network across the state at this point,” she said, “so it really is hitting critical mass.”
The personhood movement frames its case as the “most important civil rights struggle of our age” on its website, equating it with the Supreme Court’s ruling against Missouri slave Dred Scott that deemed him property.
“That’s basically what Roe v. Wade says about the pre-born,” said MacMenamin, 51, a stay-at-home mother from Port St. Lucie.
The national organization’s goal is to enact a constitutional amendment that would invalidate the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
Petition drives are happening across the country. The amendment twice failed to pass in Colorado, including in 2010, when it was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin.
It has been criticized by even some pro-life groups, who believe a protracted court fight would be sure to follow, taking time and energy away from the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade.
And, of course, it has become a political issue ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, blasted the idea in a conference call with reporters last week.
“We’re sounding the alarm bells now because it’s absolutely critical that Floridians understand just how extreme this personhood campaign is,” said Wasserman Schultz.
The effects of the personhood amendment are not altogether certain, though it could make illegal some methods of birth control, including the “morning-after” pill and intrauterine devices, in addition to abortions in the case of rape and incest.
Wasserman Schultz said she conceived two children through in vitro fertilization, a procedure that might also be targeted.
Outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour shared Wasserman Schultz’s concerns over in vitro fertilization, as well as what the amendment would mean for women suffering life-threatening ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg is implanted outside a woman’s uterus.
Still, Barbour said he voted for it because he believes life begins at conception.
In Florida — where the state requires 60 percent voter approval to alter the state constitution — Personhood has at least two well-place allies in the Legislature: Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
Haridopolos has already signed a petition, while Van Zant, an architect with a doctorate in theology, plans to propose the “Florida for Life Act.” The bill, which failed the two previous legislative sessions, would ban abortion in nearly every circumstance by returning to pre-Roe v. Wade state law. It provides an exception when a pregnancy puts a mother’s life at risk.
“I have higher hopes because many of us have been praying more about it,” Van Zant said.
Representatives from two other well known state pro-life groups, Florida Right to Life and the Florida Family Planning Council, did not return calls seeking comment.
MacMenamin said her group plans to collect signatures regardless of the outcome in Mississippi.
“I really feel that if we do not protect life we will lose our liberty,” MacMenamin said.