The advocacy group Personhood Mississippi announced on Tuesday that it plans to revive a fetal personhood ballot initiative that voters just rejected in 2011. The measure would amend Mississippi's constitution to give legal rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization.
Les Riley, the founder of Personhood Mississippi, said his organization had polled thousands of Mississippians who voted against the ballot measure and found that many of them simply didn't understand what it would have done.
"Yes, [the voters] have spoken," Riley said in a conference call on Tuesday. "They spoke and said they were confused. They didn't understand the last amendment."
Planned Parenthood Southeast, the American Civil Liberties Union and other progressive groups strongly opposed the measure in 2011 and launched campaigns throughout Mississippi to educate voters about the potential legal effects of granting personhood rights to embryos. In addition to banning abortion with no exceptions, opponents argued, the measure could undermine the legality of birth control, stem cell research and in vitro fertilization.
Riley told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that the fears about birth control and in vitro fertilization are overblown. "It will not outlaw anything that doesn't take a human life," he said. "If it's fully a contraceptive, [a personhood measure] won't affect it at all. And we don't want to do anything to impede people's ability to conceive -- we just want to protect those children once they are conceived."
The language of the proposed amendment has been rewritten in a way that may sound more appealing to voters. The 2011 ballot initiative declared that the term "person" should "be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof." This year's proposed initiative is a bit more vague, stating, "The right to life begins at conception. All human beings, at every stage of development, are unique, created in God's image and shall have equal rights as persons under the law."
Personhood Mississippi filed the necessary paperwork on Tuesday and now has a year to collect at least 107,216 signatures to put the measure on the 2014 ballot.
The same day, Planned Parenthood Southeast criticized Personhood Mississippi's move. "Mississippi voters have already spoken: Health care decisions should be left to a woman, her family, her doctor, and her faith -- not politicians," said Felicia Brown-Williams, director of public policy at Planned Parenthood Southeast, in a press release. "Mississippians expect real solutions to the real crises facing our state -- not government intrusion into private medical decisions."