Mississippi Abortion-Personhood Amendment Gets November Vote

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 9, 2011   |   3:53PM   |   Jackson, MS

Mississippi voters will be able to vote on the personhood amendment in the state when it goes to the polls in its statewide elections in November, but abortions will not necessarily be banned even if it’s approved.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood that paves the way for Mississippi to become the second state, following failed votes in 2008 and 2010 in Colorado, to consider the personhood amendment. The amendment would define unborn children as persons under the law starting at the point of conception and would, if upheld, essentially prohibit abortions in the state.

The state’s high court tackled a decision Circuit Court Judge Malcolm Harrison issued saying Measure No. 26, the personhood amendment can be placed before voters “and the constitution recognizes the right of citizens to amend their constitution.” His decision came in a case under which opponents of the amendment say the amendment can’t be used to change the Bill of Rights, which bringers of the lawsuit said it would do.

Justice Randy J. Pierce issued the majority opinion in which he wrote: “Nothing in our Constitution as it exists today gives this Court the authority to review the validity of a proposal prior to its enactment, which is exactly what Plaintiffs request this Court to do. This Court is without power to interfere with pre-election proposals, because to do so may place the administration of government at the footstool of the judiciary.”

That has the court saying they would not issue a ruling on whether the amendment could be used to change the state’s Bill of Rights until after the vote on the amendment. As Paul Linton, a pro-life attorney who has worked with a number of national pro-life organizations, tells LifeNews.com, that means Mississippi voters could spend significant time and money pursuing the amendment only to see it later shot down in court for unconstitutionally attempting to change the Bill of Rights.

“I thought it was curious, to say the least, that the majority opinion refused to decide whether the “personhood” initiative is an appropriate use of the initiative process under the Mississippi Constitution, given the prohibition in the state constitution against using the initiative to add, modify or repeal any portion of the Bill of Rights,” he said. “The two dissenting judges would have struck the measure from the ballot as an improper “addition” or “modification” to the Bill of Rights.”

In part because two judges have already indicated they will strike down the personhood amendment after the vote under a post-vote lawsuit, Linton believes it won’t be upheld even if passed.

“So, the upshot of the court’s ruling is that the people of Mississippi will have to vote on the initiative without knowing whether it is a proper use of the initiative,” Linton explained. “If the measure is approved, it can still be challenged on state constitutional grounds, i.e., that it’s an improper use of the initiative process, and I would still expect the court to strike it down on that ground.”

That’s not the only way in which the amendment might be struck down in court — assuming state voters approve it. Lower courts, after a vote, would be expected to overturn the amendment as an unconstitutional challenge to Roe v. Wade. Some pro-life groups oppose the amendment because they say it will head to the Supreme Court, which will strike it down and add to the pro-Roe v. Wade case law upholding unlimited abortions. Knowing that, they say a better strategy is supporting pro-life Senate candidates and replacing pro-abortion President Barack Obama — paving the way for new Supreme Court justices who could overturn Roe or uphold such an amendment.

Despite the legal concerns, Brad Prewitt, Executive Director of Yes on 26, appeared to think the vote would be the end of the line for the amendment.

“With the first two hurdles overcome, only the third hurdle of Election Day remains for us to claim victory in our state’s personhood movement,” he said.

The group says the personhood amendment would “recognize what science and medicine have long established — namely that every human being is fully human and fully alive from the moment of fertilization — and will grant the unborn the full and equal protection of the law.”

That’s if the amendment survives the expected legal challenges that will undoubtedly follow if it is approved this November — another uphill battle given that the amendment failed twice in Colorado on lopsided margins, including by nearly a 70-30 percentage point mark last year. Colorado voters defeated Amendment 48 in 2008 by a 73-27 percentage margin with 1,605,978 voters rejecting it compared to 585,561 who were supportive. In, 2010, the personhood amendment received the support of 473,082 voters — more than 100,000 fewer than in 2008.