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Abortion referendum fails to pass in Mississippi

Published time: November 09, 2011 19:21
Edited time: November 09, 2011 23:21
Tens of thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators march. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Tens of thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators march. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

The controversial referendum that let voters in Mississippi redefine what constitutes personhood was voted down yesterday, in what pro choice advocates are celebrating as a victory for women’s rights.

Voters had to weigh in on whether the Mississippi’s Bill of Rights should define a “person” as existing from moment of conception, wording which could have caused abortions to be equated as murder, legally, and stood to sideline other commonplace medical practices.

Initiative 26, or the “personhood initiative,” was lauded by anti-abortion advocates as a major step in outlawing the practice. Nationally, the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade legalized abortion from coast-to-coast. Should the personhood initiative been agreed on, however, abortion and some contraceptives could have been made illegal across the state.

“Even in a conservative state, tonight’s vote reaffirms that people do not want government intruding in personal decisions best made by a woman, her family and her doctor,” Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, writes in a press release. “This is the third time an amendment like this has failed. Legislators around the country should listen to the voters of Mississippi and stop playing politics with women’s health.”

In an editorial this week in USA Today, the paper described the would-be passing of the personhood initiative as “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.”

Hours after Election Day, however, opponents to the initiative were celebrating what they considered a clear win.

“Tonight, the people of Mississippi stood up for women’s health and said no to political interference in a woman’s private medical decisions,” Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi, writes in a press release following the results. “We’re proud to have been part of the coalition of doctors and nurses, clergy and parents and tens of thousands of Mississippians that defeated this dangerous amendment.”

Before polls opened, Keith Mason of Personhood USA, a group that was supporting the passing of the initiative, told Bloomberg News that regardless of the outcome on Election Day, momentum was mounting for legislation across the country. In Mississippi, it was just a small step towards bigger things.

“Pass or fail on the ballot, we are churning up, literally, a movement,” Mason said.

Both the Republican and Democratic candidates running for governor of the state of Mississippi publically stated that they supported the initiative