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When reproductive rights are intertwined with state's rights

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Submitted by Max Kamin-Cross on Wed, 2011-07-27 12:13

This piece, written by me (Max Kamin-Cross), was originally posted on The Abortion Gang.

When someone says the term “battleground state,” Mississippi is not one that comes to mind. But in 2012, that’s exactly what Mississippi will be. The Republican-dominated state is the focus of Personhood USA’s next attack, and this time it’s about more than abortion.

Personhood USA has become well known over the last several years in the reproductive rights world for their work on attempting to pass “personhood” legislation to get embryos, zygotes, and fetsues recognized as full, social security card-carrying people. In most cases they put this personhood legislation to a vote in a normal election by adding an amendment or initiative to the ballot (which are called ballot measures). Just like we vote into office our elected officials, these amendments and initiatives are put to a vote.

A “normal” personhood ballot measure’s goals are to do a couple of key things: First, it defines life as starting at conception, and second, it ensures that every single “person” or living thing– and remember life now starts at conception—has the same rights. This means that miscarriages can become the subject of murder investigations and most forms of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and stem cells research become illegal. Of course, this also makes abortion illegal. If a majority of voters approves this type of personhood ballot measure, it becomes law—it’s important to note that this has not happened yet.

Every state has different laws regarding how initiatives and amendments can get on the ballot. Each state requires a different number of signatures from voters showing support for the measure. Some states don’t even allow types of ballot measures, and Mississippi is one of those states.

Ballot measures in Mississippi may not be used to alter the state constitution’s Bill of Rights, but Personhood USA’s ballot initiative (officially named Initiative 26) would do exactly that. If approved it would alter the Bill of Rights and re-define the term person to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”

The ACLU filed a lawsuit to have it struck from the ballot, but it was overturned by a local judge, Malcolm Harrison, in a political ruling. He was up for re-election and the measure had been receiving support in his district, so he overturned the lawsuit. Ironically, he lost the election, but the damage had already been done. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have appealed to the Mississippi State Supreme Court to rule on this issue and are currently waiting for a verdict, but here’s where it really gets tricky. Mississippi’s Republican-run Supreme Court’s verdict could mean a lot. Not only will their verdict set a precedent, but it will also affect another ballot measure.

Mississippi Eminent Domain Amendment (or Initiative 31) is a ballot measure that would restrict the government’s ability to take private property and transfer it to a separate person or private business. If passed, it would amend the Mississippi Bill of Rights, the same docment that the Personhood ballot measure would impact. Initiative 31 is also the subject of a legal battle. This means that if the Republican-dominated court strikes down the Eminent Domain Amendment (which they are against) they will also be forced to strike down the Personhood Amendment (which they support).

This legal conundrum goes well beyond any issue of reproductive rights. If the measure is kept on the ballot, it will make a legal precedent that ballot measures may be used to alter the State Bill of Rights. This could have unheard of long term consequences with future ballot measures. Hopefully the court is able to look past their anti-abortion views and see that taking both initiatives off of the Mississippi ballot is the right thing to do for their state.

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