Mississippi Personhood Amendment Fails

Today Mississippi voters decisively defeated a proposed ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution to define a fertilized ovum – a zygote, an embryo – as a legal, rights-bearing person. Of course, this would have implications not just for legal abortion under any circumstances, but also potentially for in vitro fertilization and hormonal contraceptives.

There are, it should be noted, other fetal personhood efforts happening at both the state and federal levels, so we’ll have to watch and see what this means for them. Ed Kilgore’s analysis – and particularly of Mississippi counties that supported McCain in 2008 – is that white swing voters were the deciders here. I think we may safely assume that fetal personhood supporters, which let’s remember does not include everyone with deep anti-abortion convictions, will notice this fact.

One question that I continue to find interesting is whether, and when, religious conservatives with minority opinions about reproduction will realize how many people disagree with them. As I’ve said before, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a tiny minority opinion per se. Some of the best opinions are tiny minority opinions. And, for that matter, not every policy measure is appropriately decided by popular vote.

But sometimes a movement conducts itself in such a way that one wonders whether they truly grasp that most people simply do not agree with them, and are not likely to change their minds. Certainly this is not something that only conservatives (religious or otherwise) do. But those religious conservatives who argue against legal abortion, full stop; and who wish to see access to contraception curtailed… well, one begins to wonder: Do they get what a tiny minority they are?

Of course, in this particular instance, supporters of MS 26 were likely bolstered by poll numbers suggesting a pretty even split. But as Amanda Marcotte suggested, pro-choice positions often do better in votes than they do when polled, because evidently some voters feel a freedom to be honest in a ballot box that they don’t feel when they’re being polled. Which, in turn, suggests that even though religious conservatives may be overly optimistic when imagining how many people agree with them on reproductive justice matters, they are correct in thinking that they still wield a certain kind of cultural influence. How complicated.

sarah.morice.brubaker@ptstulsa.edu'

Sarah Morice-Brubaker is an assistant professor of theology at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK. In addition to writing for RD, she’s also written for The Christian Century, Dialogic Magazine, and Faith and Leadership. She has a chapter in the forthcoming edited volume from Ashgate, Placing Nature on the Borders of Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics.