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Mississippi voters can decide ‘personhood’

Pro-lifers to get question on ballot

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A traditional-values group is jubilant at the renewed likelihood that Mississippi voters — among the most pro-life in the nation — will have a "personhood" measure on their 2011 ballots.

"We believe if the voters of Mississippi get the chance to decide this issue at the ballot box, instead of having activist judges decide it for them, they are going to choose life," Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association (AFA), said Wednesday, a day after a circuit court judge cleared the way for Measure 26, the Mississippi personhood amendment, to be on the 2011 ballot.

"The road that will lead to overturning Roe v. Wade is going to run right through the state of Mississippi," Mr. Wildmon said, referring to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Measure 26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to say that "the term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

The lawsuit against Measure 26 is far from over.

Despite the disappointing ruling, "we remain confident that our legal position is correct and Measure 26 is unconstitutional," said lawyer Cliff Johnson, who is representing the plaintiffs, Deborah Hughes and Cristen Hemmins.

"We have known from the beginning of this litigation that the Mississippi Supreme Court would have the final say in this matter, and we will appeal Judge [Malcolm] Harrison's ruling and present our arguments to the Supreme Court in the very near future," added Mr. Johnson, whose allies in the case include lawyer Rob McDuff, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

On Tuesday, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Malcolm Harrison denied the plaintiffs' request to declare Measure 26 unconstitutional and strip it from the 2011 ballot.

Supporters of the amendment collected more than enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot, and "[p]laintiffs carry a heavy burden in attempting to restrict the citizenry's right to amend the Constitution," Judge Harrison wrote. "The Court finds plaintiffs have not met their burden."

In Colorado, a "personhood" amendment is on the Nov. 2 ballot. This is the second time Colorado voters will have a chance to speak on this issue, and polls suggest they will reject it as strongly as they did in 2008.

Mississippi, however, is strongly pro-life. "You can't run for dog catcher in Mississippi without calling yourself pro-life," Les Riley, a spokesman for Personhood Mississippi, told Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis at the AFA, in a recent interview.

Volunteers quickly gathered more than 130,000 signatures to put the personhood measure on the ballot, and "we are very optimistic" that voters will pass it, Mr. Riley said. Once that happens, "abortion will immediately become illegal in Mississippi and Roe v. Wade will be nullified. And obviously there will be a court challenge issue and we expect it to go to the Supreme Court very quickly."

Personhood challenges Roe "at its very heart," Mr. Riley added, because Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in the Roe decision that if "personhood is established" for unborn children, the abortion rights case "collapses, for the fetus' right to life is then guaranteed."

Opponents of personhood bills say that such measures violate women's constitutional rights to reproductive freedom and will outlaw certain birth control methods and possibly assisted reproductive services.

They also note that Justice Blackmun had one more thing to say about fetal "personhood" — that "no case could be cited" that says that a fetus is a person with constitutional rights.

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