Commentary Law and Policy

Mississippians Rightfully Reject Personhood Amendment

Jessica Arons

Mississippi voters yesterday soundly defeated Initiative 26, the so-called Personhood Amendment, by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent. The vague proposition, which would have defined a fertilized egg as a person, threatened a multitude of untold consequences.

Cross-posted with permission from the Center for American Progress.

See all our coverage of the Mississippi Egg-As-Person Defeat here, our coverage of Mississippi Initiative (Prop) 26 here, and our coverage of egg-as-person initiatives here.

Mississippi voters yesterday soundly defeated Initiative 26, the so-called Personhood Amendment, by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent. The vague proposition, which would have defined a fertilized egg as a person, threatened a multitude of untold consequences. The Mississippi constitution alone has 9,000 references to the word “person,” aside from the number of times it appears in state statutes.

But the known consequences were numerous and chilling:

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

  • A total ban on abortion in all circumstances
  • A ban on most forms of birth control, including the pill and emergency contraception
  • A ban on many aspects of common fertility treatments
  • A ban on stem cell research

The measure also would have made any miscarriage automatically suspect and subject to criminal investigation—and might have outlawed the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, a medical emergency where an embryo implants in the ovaries or fallopian tubes instead of the uterus.

Lawyers convene to discuss the implications of Mississippi's Personhood Initiative. <a href=

Lawyers convene to discuss the implications of Mississippi’s Personhood Initiative. (img src)

As it is, Mississippians have enough trouble taking care of the children they do have. The statistics tell a grim tale. Mississippi has the highest rate of poverty in the nation, with 22.4 percent of the state living below the federal poverty level in 2010, and also has the worst amount of food insecurity. It is also the last in health and academic achievement. Almost one-third of its children live in poverty, and for children under age 5, almost two-thirds are poor.

The state also experiences the most childhood deaths—34 for every 100,000 children ages 1 to 14. The infant mortality rate is 10.6 for every 1,000 live births, compared to a national rate of 6.8; and African American babies are two and a half times more likely to die in their first year of life than white babies (15.1 versus 6.9 per 1,000 live births).

Reproductive health outcomes are equally bad. The state is ranked 45th for maternal mortality. Eighteen percent of births in Mississippi are preterm, and 11.8 percent are low birthweight, compared to national rates of 12.3 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively. The teen birth rate is 65.7 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 (the U.S. rate is 41.5). And 61,000 women received subsidized contraception from the federally funded Title X Family Planning Program in 2008, but that does not even represent the full need.

With such dire numbers, it is no wonder some in Mississippi feel the need to “protect life.” But they should focus on the lives of those who have already been born and not look for more ways to erect barriers to urgently needed reproductive health care. Today in Mississippi there is only one abortion clinic left in the state, putting quality, timely, and affordable abortion care out of reach for far too many women.

In a state where so many parents struggle to feed the children they already have, attempting to take away women’s ability to prevent pregnancy, end an unplanned pregnancy, and manage a wanted pregnancy is nothing other than pure cruelty. Thankfully, Mississippi voters recognized this and stood up and said “no.”

News Law and Policy

Alabama Abortion Clinics Could Soon Be Regulated Like Sex Offenders

Teddy Wilson

GOP backers of the measure have said that abortion clinics should not be near schools because of the "commotion" caused by anti-choice protesters outside the facility.

The Republican-dominated Alabama legislature green lighted a pair of anti-choice bills Wednesday in the final hours the legislative session: one that regulates abortion clinics like sex offenders and another that criminalizes a common method of second-trimester abortion care.

Both measures were passed by wide margins. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign both bills.

SB 205, sponsored by state Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville), would prohibit the Alabama Department of Public Health from issuing or renewing a health center license to an abortion clinic or reproductive health center located within 2,000 feet of a public school, regulating abortion clinics in the same manner as registered sex offenders.

GOP backers of the measure have said that abortion clinics should not be near schools because of the “commotion” caused by anti-choice protesters outside the facility.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The bill targets a Huntsville-area abortion clinic that was forced by state legislators three years ago to relocate across the street from a school. The Alabama Women’s Center, one of five clinics in the state providing abortion care, reportedly spent $550,000 in relocation costs to comply with a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law Bentley signed in 2013.

The West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, which is located near the Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary, would also be forced to close.

The two clinics provide the vast majority of abortion services in the state. The clinics performed 5,927 abortion procedures in 2014, or 72 percent of the abortion procedures in the state that year, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The house gave final approval to SB 205 with a 73-18 vote, with two Democrats joining Republicans in voting in favor of the bill.  

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle), who sponsored an identical bill in 2015 that didn’t pass, said during floor debate that the bill was intended to protect school children, reported the Associated Press.

“I don’t feel like these types of facilities need to be anywhere near our children,” Henry said.

Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) said during the floor debate that it was disturbing that a person or facility would comply with state law only to be penalized by lawmakers.

“It is unfair for an individual to meet the demands of a law that we passed and when they moved, we create another law to put them basically out of business,” Hall said.

Officials from the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama have vowed to file a lawsuit challenging the law if it is signed by the governor. 

“This law is an attack on the health and well-being of Alabama women. Government and politicians should not intrude on these personal, private family decisions,” Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement. “If passed, this outrageous law will only result in yet another costly lawsuit, which is the last thing our state needs.”

SB 363 would prohibit a physician from performing a “dismemberment abortion” unless it is necessary to prevent serious health risk to the pregnant person. This law targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is frequently used during second-trimester abortions.

Physicians who violate the law would face fines of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years. The house approved SB 363 with a 74-26 vote, with two Democrats joining the Republicans in passing the measure. 

An abortion using suction aspiration can be performed up to 14 weeks’ gestation, but after 14 weeks, the D and E procedure is commonly used to perform an abortion, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. As such, D and E bans, depending upon their language, may ban all surgical abortion past 14 weeks’ gestation.

Republican legislators in several states have introduced bills to ban the D and E procedure over the past two years. The bills have been copies of legislation drafted by the anti-choice group known as the National Right to Life Committee.

Alabama will join neighboring Mississippi in passing bills this year outlawing the procedure if Bentley signs SB 363.

State courts have blocked such measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas. West Virginia’s Republican-held legislature in March voted to override the veto of a similar anti-choice bill.

Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) called out what he viewed as Republican hypocrisy during the floor debate, as GOP lawmakers restrict abortion access while refusing to provide health care for low-income families.

“We want to ban abortions, but we don’t want to fund Medicaid to take care of the babies once they’re born,” Ford said.

News Abortion

‘Personhood’ Bill Introduced in Mississippi, Despite Repeated Failures

Teddy Wilson

State Rep. Randy Boyd (R-Mantachie) has introduced HB 1309, which would redefine "person" in Mississippi state law to include "every human being from the moment of fertilization."

A Mississippi lawmaker has introduced a bill that would define life as beginning at fertilization, marking the latest attempt to pass “personhood” legislation in the state, despite the previous failed attempts there and around the country.

State Rep. Randy Boyd (R-Mantachie) introduced HB 1309, which would redefine “person” in Mississippi state law to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization.”

Personhood legislation has been introduced in several state legislatures and in Congress over the past few years. The intent of the legislation is to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as people in order to grant them full legal protection, including the right to life from the moment of conception.

The law would criminalize abortion with no exceptions, and effectively ban many forms of contraception, in vitro fertilization and other reproductive health-care measures.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Personhood legislation or ballot initiatives have failed to pass in states around the country. Ballot measures to amend the state constitutions to include personhood language in both Colorado and North Dakota failed to pass by wide margins during the November 2014 elections.

Personhood ballot measures and legislation have also failed to pass multiple times in Mississippi.

Initiative 26, which would have amended the state constitution by adding personhood language, was roundly rejected by Mississippi voters in 2011. A campaign to put a personhood initiative on the ballot in November 2015 ended unsuccessfully last May when organizers failed to turn in petitions with the required number of signatures.

HB 819 and HCR 14 were both introduced in the GOP-controlled Mississippi legislature during the 2013 legislative session, and both died in committee.

Lawmakers in Virginia have also introduced a controversial personhood proposal. Colorado’s anti-choice lawmakers have once again pushed personhood legislation despite its repeated failures.

Lawmakers in recent years have passed several laws and introduced more to restrict access to abortion in Mississippi. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said it is his goal to “end abortion” in the state. This year, state Sen. Phillip Gandy (R-Waynesboro) introduced SB 2138, which would increase the minimum waiting period before someone can have an abortion from 24 to 72 hours.

HB 1309 has been referred to the house judiciary committee, where it awaits further action.