[JURIST] Mississippi voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure [Initiative 26 materials] that would have amended the state constitution [text] to define the word “person” or “persons” to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” The initiative, which would have given fetuses rights from the moment of conception, was defeated by more than 55 percent [AP report] of the state’s voters. The primary goal of the legislation was an attempt to make abortion [JURIST news archive] illegal on the theory that a woman’s right to choose an abortion cannot outweigh the fetus’ right to life, if the fetus is at all points following conception, considered a person. Opponents of the initiative argued that the measure was “extreme” [CRR statement] and that it could have extensive implications to women’s reproductive health beyond outlawing abortion. According to some legal scholars the initiative could have limited access to some types of contraception [JURIST op-ed] and fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization (IVF). Pro-Choice advocacy groups also claimed that the initiative could have put doctors and women at risk of criminal prosecution for providing routine gynecological care. Proponents of the measure rejected the idea [The Atlantic report] that the initiative would have banned either abortion or contraception, stating that the initiative would only redefine the term ‘person’ within existing laws, which would not provide any provisions regarding enforcement. Proponents maintained that the state’s legislature would have limited the application of the new definition to laws outlawing abortion.
The Supreme Court of Mississippi [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in September that the initiative could be placed on the ballot [JURIST report]. The ruling came after two Mississippi citizens filed a lawsuit claiming the initiative violated Article 15, Section 273(5)(a) [text, PDF] of the Mississippi Constitution. The court refused to rule on the constitutionality of the initiative itself, but concluded that it could not interfere with or question the validity of a legislative proposal prior to the election. The court, therefore, ultimately dismissed the challenge on the basis that Measure 26 is not ripe for review. Colorado voters struck down [Denver Post report] a similar ballot initiative [text, PDF] in November 2010 that would have amended the state’s constitution [text] to extend rights to fetuses [JURIST report] and would have effectively outlawed abortion. In November 2007, the Colorado Supreme Court [official website] approved the language of an anti-abortion group’s proposed ballot initiative that would amend the Colorado constitution [JURIST report] to define a fertilized egg as a “person” entitled to “inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law” under the state constitution. JURIST Guest Columnist Caitlin Borgmann argues that redefining personhood is just one of several approaches aimed at curtailing abortion [JURIST op-ed].