The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for an amendment to the state constitution granting “personhood” to fetuses to go to voters in November though the court did not render a position on the measure’s constitutionality, should it pass.
“Our law provides that this court cannot interfere with the legislative act of the people, just as this court cannot interfere with the attempt of the Legislature to pass a law,” Associate Justice Randy G. Pierce said in the 7-2 majority opinion.
Before an election, only the “form” of a citizen-driven constitutional amendment can be challenged, the court said.
The “substance” of an amendment, including its constitutionality, can be challenged only after an election, it said, adding, “It is not within the province of this court to render advisory opinions.”
Measure 26 seeks to define “person” in the Mississippi Constitution as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
The goal is to give Mississippians the right to declare that, in their state, “under God, the unborn are persons, possessed of those ‘unalienable rights’ to life as our Founders opined in the Declaration of Independence,” Personhood USA said.
Attorneys for the women who opposed the ballot measure called the ruling disappointing.
Measure 26 “could severely undermine women’s access to birth control, in-vitro fertilization and life-saving medical procedures,” said Bear Atwood of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.
Plaintiffs Deborah Hughes and Cristen Hemmins had argued that ballot initiatives cannot propose new provisions to the state’s bill of rights, and therefore Measure 26 was unconstitutional on its face.
In their dissent, Associate Justices James W. Kitchens and Leslie D. King agreed, saying Measure 26 illegally seeks to add “a new section” to the state’s bill of rights. The people can modify their bedrock law, “but not in this manner,” they wrote.
Brad Prewitt, executive director of “Yes on 26,” said Thursday’s ruling left only the “hurdle of Election Day” before Mississippi becomes “the first state in the nation to grant civil rights to the unborn.”