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Referendum could outlaw abortion in Mississippi

Referendum could outlaw abortion in Mississippi
Things stand to get real personal this Election Day in Mississippi, when voters will be asked to define when human life begins, opening up abortion to perhaps being prohibited across the state.

A referendum on the ballot across the state this week will mean voters in Mississippi will be able to settle once and for all what exactly being a person means, at least on the state’s Bill of Rights. Advocates are attempting to get the official rulebook to specify that the term “person” applies to “every human being from the moment of fertilization,” a move which could cause massive legal ramifications that would most likely make the cause go all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Should the new wording be added to the Bill of Rights, many routine medical surgeries, birth control methods and abortion would be outlawed across Mississippi.

One day before Initiative 26, referred to around state as “the personhood initiative,” surveys suggest that the measure has almost as much support as it does opposition — and the controversy surrounding the referendum and its consequences on the people of the state, born and un-born, has much of the country looking Mississippi in what some think is the biggest issue on the voting bloc this year. According to Public Policy Polling, 45 percent of voters support the amendment, while 44 percent are opposed. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor have also offered their support.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights have already asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to keep the measure from voting booths this week, but the court says it can’t consider the constitutionality of Initiative 26 until — and if — the states people vote it into law. Law analysts say that an appeal would almost certainly be asked for if the measure passes.

Should the term “person” be coined to apply to embryos from the moment of conception, instances of abortion could be equated legally as homicide. Personhood USA, the pro-life advocacy group that is backing the vote in Mississippi and has proposed similar measures elsewhere, has acknowledged that Roe v Wade would “collapse” should the law go through. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Yes on 26, another group favoring the passing, says they hope to outlaw abortion by means of the wording this Election Day, even if that means prohibiting it in cases of rape or incest.

The Monitor adds in their own words that the law would turn a woman’s body into a “crime scene,” and in an editorial in USA Today, the paper says it is “the legal equivalent of a poorly aimed grenade, one that could define as murder anything that results in the destruction of a fertilized egg or a zygote or an embryo.”

Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA, says that whatever the results tomorrow, it is only the beginning.

“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,” Mason says to Bloomberg News.

To some, the already existing pro-life movement will just be propelled onto new legal grounds.

"This amendment cuts to the heart of the abortion debate in terms of the moral and theoretical nature of the problem," Christopher Tollefsen, professor at the James Madison Program at Princeton University, adds to the Monitor. "It takes the pro-life movement beyond the recent question of whether an embryo is a human being to whether the embryo is a person who needs to be treated with fundamental respect and full protection of the law."

Because of the protections that would be implemented on the embryo should the law pass, abortions could be just the start of what would change in Mississippi. Additionally, the morning-after pill and the IUD contraception stand to be outlawed, and certain medical procedures would have to be discontinued. Given the wording, doctors that perform surgeries on pregnant mothers could be held accountable for murder should the child die during operation.

In a statement from Yes on 26 in an attempt to shoot down those oppositions, the group says that those against the measure “have a major financial and ideological interest in abortion remaining legal in the state of Mississippi.”

In full, voters will be asked to consider “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?” which would stand to impact the scientific community as well.

CurrentMississippi Governor Haley Barbour told MSNBC recently that he believes “life begins at conception,” but the initiative’s abstract wording isn’t exactly as clear.

“Unfortunately this personhood amendment doesn’t say that,” Barbour 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.”

Barbour cast an absentee ballot in support of the bill since he will be out of his voting district this Election Day.