Mississippi Didn’t Need Personhood Amendment to Ban Abortion

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 9, 2011   |   1:20PM   |   Jackson, MS

The range of opinions within the pro-life movement in reaction to the defeat of the personhood amendment is wide — with some pro-life advocates upset the amendment failed and others saying it would not have banned abortions.

What many of the leading pro-life advocates and organizations agree on today, however, is that the defeat of the amendment did not stop efforts to provide legislative and legal protection for unborn children from abortions. In fact, some leading pro-life observers say the amendment wasn’t necessary to ban abortions in Mississippi.

John McCormack, a pro-life writer at the Weekly Standard, a conservative publication, says the defeat of the personhood amendment “should not be taken as a “major setback” for abortion opponents” in part because it “did not have the backing of major pro-life groups, such as National Right to Life Committee and Americans United for Life, or major religious institutions, such as Mississippi’s Catholic bishops, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops…..”

“Mississippi’s personhood amendment was counterproductive, imprudent, and ill-defined. Had it passed, it wouldn’t have stopped a single abortion and would have merely given the Supreme Court another opportunity to re-affirm Roe v. Wade,” McCormack says.

But McCormack says Mississippi doesn’t need the personhood amendment to ban abortion: “Mississippi already has a “trigger law” on the books to ban 99 percent of abortions when Roe v. Wade is overturned.”

In fact, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour signed a bill into law in March 2007 that would prohibit virtually all abortions in the state should the Supreme Court ever overturn Roe v. Wade. Under the trigger law, the only cases of abortion that would be allowed after Roe is reversed would be when the abortion directly threatens the life of the mother and in cases of rape. Anyone who would do an illegal abortion if the law goes into effect would be sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison.

Meanwhile, Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest said Wednesday that the personhood amendment would not have challenged Roe v. Wade and overturned the infamous Supreme Court decision that has allowed more than 54 million abortions since 1973.

Yoest told LifeNews the “long and noble legal precedent for the personhood of unborn children did not suffer harm by the defeat of the ballot initiative in Mississippi.”

“This measure would not have led to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, but had a symbolic appeal for pro-life Americans. It was not drafted in such a way that it would conflict with Roe,” she explained. “The loss has no immediate implications as the initiative restricted what the government could do, not what individuals could do. The measure would have restrained government actions – government-funded abortions – and not abortions conducted by individuals or enterprises such as Planned Parenthood.”

The personhood amendment would not have banned abortions in part because dozens of states have already passed laws defining unborn children as people, but the Supreme Court has said they may not be used to stop abortions.

“The unborn child as a person under the law, who can be recognized in civil and criminal statutes, is a tradition stretching back to English law,” Yoest continued. “Today, 38 states have wrongful death statutes so that grieving parents have a means of addressing the loss of a child in civil courts, and 37 states have fetal homicide laws on the books that carry criminal penalties. AUL has been on the forefront of these efforts as a source of model legislation for the two-pronged protections and recognitions of the personhood of the unborn.”

“Pro-life Americans celebrated a significant number of successes during state legislative sessions this year. AUL’s campaign to accumulate victories through strategic legislative gains led to 28 pieces of legislation alone. Despite the loss in Mississippi, a number of new pro-life pieces of legislation have taken their place in the law in defense of life,” Yoest concluded. “But the importance of the recognition of the humanity of a child in the womb will not falter as a result of this vote.”

With 1559 of 1876 precincts counted, the amendment failed by a 58 to 42 percentage point margin.

Mississippi follows Colorado, which also rejected the amendment twice in both 2010 and 2008. The 2010 amendment lost by a 70-30 percentage point margin as Amendment 62 failed to gain a majority in any Colorado county. 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. The 2010 Colorado personhood amendment received the support of more than 100,000 fewer voters than in 2008.

While defining human life beginning at conception or fertilization is a fine, if pro-life advocates truly want to end abortion, that strategy of changing the Supreme Court via changing the presidency and makeup of the Senate is the only avenue to ban abortions and the only objective pro-life advocates should be focusing on over the next 12 months. When the Supreme Court has a majority ready to overturn Roe, then and only then will it be possible to promote abortion bans or Human Life Amendments that have the ability to truly ban abortions.