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Mississippi Election 2011: Initiative 26, Personhood

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 03 Nov 2011 04:59pm | comments
A doctor wears a yes on 26 sticker.

Mississippi’s November 8th general election ballot includes three constitutional amendments.   One of the most emotional is amendment 26 or personhood---which defines life as beginning at fertilization.  Supporters of this proposal see it as a direct challenge to laws that keep abortion legal in this country.   MPB’s Jeffrey Hess has more on this deeply divisive issue.

More than 100-thousand Mississippians signed a petition to get the initiative on the ballot.

In the run up to the election, anti-abortion advocates have lobbied voters all over the state defending the proposition in stark moral and often religious terms.

Jason Dillion is an associate pastor at Parkway Pentecostal Church in Madison, he says his religion drives him to support the Personhood amendment.

"Whenever you approach the scripture you walk away seeing a god that not only delights in giving live, he is the creator of it and the sustainer of it. That process is not just a happenstance or a byproduct, it is a real process where God says 'my hand is in this, bringing life into the world'. This is a person," Dillon said.

But even in the pro-life community there is disagreement about Personhood.

The Catholic Church, a staunch anti-abortion organization, has not endorsed the amendment.

CJ Rhodes, a pastor at Mount Helm Church in Jackson, says religious Mississippians can oppose both personhood and abortion, because he thinks this amendment could open a Pandora's box of legal trouble.

"This is not just about abortion. If proposition 26 really read "should Mississippi outlaw abortion" then you have an issue of are you for or against abortion. We should hold back and say even if you are against abortion, we need a better law written for another election," Rhodes said.

The amendment has also divided the state's medical community.  The Mississippi State Medical Association and nurses association are not supporting it.

Jackson Gynecologist Randy Hines worries that the amendment could insert the government in the doctor-patient relationship, and limit a doctor's ability to treat patients, such as women who have potentially deadly ectopic pregnancies, where the fertilized egg implants in a woman's Fallopian tube.

"The only way to treat that pregnancy is to either treat it medically or surgically to stop it from growing. And you do that to save the life of a woman. If you don't treat it, the woman could die. After proposition 26, that pregnancy in the tube has the same legal status as a pregnancy in the uterus," Hines said.

A number of doctors do not agree with that assessment.

Jackson Gynecologist Shani Mack says the doctors opposing the amendment are blowing the legal concerns out of proportion.

"In situations where the pregnancy endangers the woman's life, such as ectopic pregnancy and molar pregnancy,  they would still be able to receive the same care they always have. Because we are not going to stand there as practicing physicians and watch a momma die," Mack said.

Anti-abortion groups nationwide are pushing similar amendments in other states and see the Mississippi vote as a test case for those amendments.

Opponents of amendment 26 recently rallied in Oxford, urging voters to reject what they consider an intrusion on women's rights.

They argue that amendment could lead to the banning of popular birth control methods, like the pill, and limit options for victims of rape or incest....As well as ending certain types of In Vitro Fertilization which requires the fertilization of multiple eggs.

The initiative appears to have wide support among state elected officials, including the candidates from both parties for governor and attorney general.

Still, outgoing Governor Haley Barbour...one of the most prominent political voices in Mississippi... says he has concerns about the scope of amendment.

He told a group of reporters at Wednesday's hob nob event in Jackson that the amendment leaves too many unanswered questions.

"What other unintended consequences are we not seeing so obviously. I do believe life begins at conception but I don't think this is very well crafted. I am just being honest with you, it gives me concern. I have got to think through it and make a decision on how to vote," Barbour said.

Even if it passes, the amendment is almost certain to face legal challenges.

The courts could tackle the issue on two fronts: one is its direct conflict with federal law, and the other is its broad reach...courts have tended to strike down laws that are considered too far reaching.

To pass, at least 50-percent of the people voting for this initiative must approve it...but that number must also be at least 40-percent of the total ballots cast in the election.



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