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Mississippi voters reject anti-abortion initiative

By Rich Phillips, CNN
November 9, 2011 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
If the amendment 26, or
If the amendment 26, or "Personhood," had passed, it would have re-opened the national debate on abortion.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Measure also sought to ban certain forms of contraception
  • If it had passed, it would have re-opened the national debate on abortion
  • Critics say it was a restrictive attempt to outlaw abortion

Jackson, Mississippi (CNN) -- Mississippi voters rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have defined life as starting at conception, and outlawed abortion and many forms of birth control if passed.

"I think voters rejected a measure they understood to be dangerous," said Felicia Brown-Williams with the Mississippi for Healthy Families Campaign. "They really tried to manipulate values around faith and family."

If the amendment 26, or "Personhood," had passed Tuesday, it would have re-opened the national debate on abortion. Court challenges would have set the measure on a path for the U.S. Supreme Court and a showdown in the far right's mission to overturn Roe V. Wade.

"We are not conceding because we did our duty," said Les Riley, a Mississippi citizen and a petitioner of amendment 26. "We have obeyed God ... it is not tolerable that they kill children."

Gov. Barbour: Life begins at conception

Critics say the amendment was a restrictive attempt to outlaw abortion -- even in the case of mothers who are the victims of rape and incest.

It also bans certain forms of contraception that work after a woman's egg is fertilized and questions treatments such as in vitro fertilization because eggs would be considered people and are sometimes destroyed in laboratories.

"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," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union reproductive freedom project.

Opponents criticized the amendment as too vague. If it passed, it would have compelled the state legislature to write rules and laws to govern it.

"I think voters understood they could not support something that was so broad, sweeping and yes so unclear," said Atlee Breland of Parents Against Amendment 26. "Nobody wants to trust the government to work it out at a later date."

Mississippi's Gov. Haley Barbour questioned the amendment, but eventually supported it.

"If they had come to the Mississippi legislature and said, 'look, we want to change the constitution and say life begins at conception our legislature would have passed that," he said on CNN's John King USA.

"We'd all be better off if this had gone through the legislative process instead of trying to change the bill of rights of the Mississippi constitution by the initiative. You would have had hearings, people would have understood it, you would have gone through the conference committee and you would have ironed out a lot of these wrinkles."

The ballot initiative was part of a national campaign brought by Personhood USA. The Colorado-based group describes itself as a nonprofit Christian ministry that "serves the pro-life community by assisting local groups to initiate citizen, legislative and political action focusing on the ultimate goal of the pro-life movement: personhood rights for all innocent humans."

Despite the loss, the group said it has made steps in its fight.

"We accomplished our mission to be a voice for the voiceless who have no one else speaking for them," said Keith Mason of Personhood USA. "I want to make a commitment that we will stand with Mississippi until all humans are treated as persons."

A similar amendment was defeated in Colorado last year. Other personhood measures are planned in Florida, Montana and Ohio next year, according to supporters.

Clergy and church officials in Mississippi were split on the issue. Some anti-abortion religious groups believed the amendment was so extreme, it could lead to a Supreme Court ruling that strengthens Roe v. Wade.

The idea for personhood started during Roe v. Wade's oral arguments, when Justice Potter Stewart said, "If it were established that an unborn fetus is a person, you would have an impossible case here."

Personhood USA uses the amendments in an attempt to maneuver a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade ruling. "We will establish a culture of life," said Dr. Freda Bush, a Yes on 26 spokeswoman. "This is a cultural war from the womb to the tomb and we will be back."

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