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Threat of "Fetal Personhood" Law Despite Loss in Mississippi

Despite Loss in Mississippi, The Threat of "Fetal Personhood" Laws Continue

Bill Berkowitz
November 14, 2011

Some in the pro-choice community are certainly breathing a deep sigh of relief as Mississippi's Personhood Amendment, which would have defined life as beginning at conception, was soundly defeated on Tuesday, November 8. With nearly 60 percent of the state's voters rejecting Initiative 26, there is no doubt that a celebration is in order.

But, before anyone gets too euphoric about the results of Mississippi's Constitution, it should be noted that sponsors of personhood amendments in Mississippi and other states are vowing to soldier on.

Despite not succeeding in the passage of Mississippi's Personhood Amendment, Personhood USA - the organization spearheading the personhood movement - is likely celebrating as well. They did better in Mississippi than they've done previously anywhere else.

And, Team Personhood will definitely have the ears of the new governor of the state of Mississippi.

At the same time voters were rejecting Initiative 26, Mississippians voted to elect Phil Bryant to succeed Haley Barbour as governor. While there were many public figures that supported Amendment 26 (including the Democratic Party's candidate for governor), perhaps none did so with such unbridled gusto as Bryant, who also co-chaired the Yes on 26 campaign.

According to Salon's Irin Carmon, "Bryant went so far as to compare the issue to the Holocaust and the Jews of Nazi Germany ‘being marched into the oven,' because of ‘the people who were in charge of the government at that time.' He described the ballot measure as ‘a battle of good or evil,' and warned, ‘the evil dark side that exists in this world is taking hold. And they're saying, what we want you to be able to do is continue to extinguish innocent life. You see, if we could do that, Satan wins.'"

Soldiering on in the Fields of Personhood

The Florida Independent reported that Bryan Longworth, the head of Personhood Florida, says that despite the defeat in Mississippi, "he is undeterred from his goal of placing a ‘fetal personhood' amendment on Florida ballots." Longworth stated that "[Mississippi] definitely made more progress than any other state in the past.... We're not deterred by this loss. We're following the William Wilberforce [a leader in the fight against slavery] pattern. He didn't win the first time, didn't win the second time, the third time ... but he kept trying."

Longworth added, "Abortion is an abhorrent practice involving the dismemberment of the bodies of pre-born children," he says. "One day, we're going to look back at abortion in a worse light than slavery. Abortion will end. Every time we present this case, we're moving closer to ending it. It's just a matter of when."

Personhood USA, the organization that has been spearheading Personhood initiatives in the states, blamed Planned Parenthood for the loss in Mississippi, and vowed to continue the personhood fight.

Following the vote in Mississippi, Keith Ashley wrote on the Personhood USA blog: "Personhood USA understands that changing a culture - and changing a country - will not happen with one election, and so it is not unexpected. ... We vow to continue on this path towards affirming the basic dignity and human rights of all people because we are assured that it is the right thing to do, and we are prepared for a long journey."

Ashley claimed that "the tide is turning in America," that the opposition's "most successful tactics were steeped in falsehoods," and vowed to "attempt a personhood ballot measure again-and again, if necessary-until every person's life is protected."

According to The Huffington Post's Laura Bassett, Personhood USA is, "currently gathering signatures to put similar measures on the ballot in Montana, Florida and Oregon. Personhood advocates have filed personhood language measures in Ohio, Nevada and California, and lawmakers have initiated or soon plan to initiate equivalent legislation in Alabama, Wisconsin and Michigan. Voters defeated a personhood measure twice in Colorado - the only state besides Mississippi that has gathered enough signatures to force a vote."

In addition, Bassett wrote recently, "The movement is also gaining momentum in Congress: GOP lawmakers have introduced three bill that would extend personhood rights to fertilized eggs. Sixty-three House Republicans signed onto Rep. Paul Broun's (R-Ga.) "Sanctity of Human Life Act," which mirrors the Mississippi personhood language. GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (Minn.) cosponsored Rep. Duncan Hunter's (R-Calif.) personhood bill, which would allow "the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child," and Mississippi's own Sen. Roger Wicker (R) introduced a bill in the Senate that defines a person from the moment of fertilization."

Although some in the so-called right-to-life movement opposed initiative 26, other organizations have fully embraced it. Before the election, in writing about the Mississippi ballot measure and its legal ramifications, The Atlantic magazine's Kay Steiger pointed out, "Personhood USA has been relying on legal advice from the Liberty Counsel, a religious legal nonprofit closely affiliated with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA."

Liberty Counsel's General Counsel Steve Crampton, "has been the lead attorney on defending Personhood's initiative in court thus far, successfully fending off the first round of challenges, filed in November 2008, against the measure from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood and the ALCU argued that measure 26 violated Mississippi's state constitution, which explicitly states in Article III that amendments to its constitution cannot violate the Bill of Rights, and should not have been permitted to go to a vote. The Mississippi Supreme Court did not agree, and let the measure move forward."

Anti-choice activists blamed the Mississippi defeat on Planned Parenthood, the media, and Satan. According to People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch, Brad Prewitt, the executive director of Yes on 26: "likened the personhood fight to the struggle against slavery, and Gualberto Garcia Jones of Personhood USA blamed the media and the ‘culture of death' for the defeat." Susan Tyrrell of Lou Engle's Bound4Life, "wrote that it was a victory for ‘the kingdom of Satan.'"

There's a good chance that Personhood Mississippi will soon begin preparations to reboot.

Meanwhile, Personhood USA is making claims on the rest of the nation, hoping to pass personhood laws or set up referendums in states that include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Oregon.


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