Defeating Personhood: A Critical But Incomplete Victory for Reproductive Justice
See all our coverage of the Mississippi Egg-As-Person Defeat here, our coverage of Mississippi Initiative (Prop) 26 here, and our coverage of egg-as-person initiatives here.
The headlines all say it – “Personhood defeated in Mississippi!” This was a tremendous victory for the pro-choice movement that started campaigning on the ground only September 8, years after proponents of the “Yes on 26” ballot initiative flooded the state with a superbly orchestrated campaign that included well-financed organizing and petition drives. As of this writing, 55 percent of the voters rejected this dangerous, precedent-setting initiative that would have declared a fertilized egg a “person” and outlawed most contraception, in vitro fertilization, and would have criminalized abortion – even in cases of rape and incest. These dangerous, unintended consequences even persuaded conservative voters to defeat the initiative, splitting the traditionally unified anti-abortion base.
Mississippi was a peoples’ victory, a triumph in which people of all backgrounds, races, professions and religions came together. Congratulations are definitely in order for the tireless activists in the state, and for those professional campaigners who came from out-of-state to direct the No on 26 campaign, led by Mississippians for Healthy Families. The grassroots efforts of many courageous Mississippi activists demonstrated that over-reaching zealots who do not care about women’s lives could be rebuffed even in the reddest, most religious, conservative state in the South. The professional campaign strategists were right – targeting their efforts at conservatives and independents by magnifying the anti-government sentiments in the state that are a holdover from the Civil Rights movement and the more recent stoking by the Tea Party.
The supporters of the personhood initiative could not hoodwink people in Mississippi because great folks like Valencia Robinson of SisterSong and Allison Korn of National Advocates for Pregnant Women threw their hearts into the campaign, knowing that Mississippi does not have the comparable pro-choice infrastructure that states like New York, California, and even Colorado have. It was a great success for the pro-choice movement and sets radical anti-abortionists back on their heels, after the millions of dollars they invested in the state.
It was not, however, a total victory for the Reproductive Justice movement. At the same time, Mississippi voters approved Initiative 27, a Voter ID exclusion initiative requiring government-issued identification in order to vote, a direct threat to the Voting Rights Act. Even on November 7, some black voters were questioned about their ID and their right to vote. One poll worker asked Michelle Colon, a grassroots activist, why she did not recognize her when Michelle voted at the same precinct she had used for seven years. The same voters who elected a Republican governor and supported Voter ID broke ranks and rejected the Personhood Initiative. What this means for future elections is ominous and should be carefully analyzed.