Proposition 26 was rejected by one of the nation’s heaviest pro-life populations tonight. Mississippi voters rejected the ‘personhood’ initiative, which would’ve defined life as beginning at the point of fertilization, by a surprising margin, with 55% voting against the proposed amendment. Being defeated in the heart of the Bible Belt serves as a stunning rejection of the most recent attempt to eliminate abortion by the pro-life movement.
Had the initiative succeeded, the debate over abortion and a woman’s right to choose would likely have made it back into the courtroom as the law would’ve conflicted with the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. Appearing to be headed for Election Day success, many supporters of the movement were already discussing the potential challenge to Roe v. Wade.
Personhood USA, the Colorado based organization that had been sponsoring the proposal, is currently developing similar initiatives for other states, including Florida, Montana, Ohio, and Oregon. This is the third time Personhood USA has sponsored a proposal of this nature, having also failed in its previous two attempts in the group’s home state. With Election Day 2012 having bigger national implications, and therefore more coverage, Personhood USA will likely be a constant in the news for at least another election cycle.
While philosophers have struggled to define what a ‘person’ is, and scientists have struggled to define when life truly begins, Personhood USA, a self-described nonprofit Christian ministry that strives to fight for the pro-life movement, pushed for their particular definition and was rejected. Implications of defining life as beginning at fertilization could have been far reaching, affecting more than just those who desired an abortion. Birth control, the day after pill, and in vitro fertilization would all have faced potential bans. Birth control and the day after pill make it so that an egg cannot adhere to the vaginal wall, whether fertilized or not, while in vitro fertilization sometimes involves the destruction of fertilized eggs. All of this would’ve been up for debate had Personhood USA and other proponents of the initiative been successful.
What it is to be a person and when personhood begins is a serious philosophical question, one that religion cannot sufficiently answer. Philosophers have struggled in their efforts to end this debate for centuries. Without a satisfactory answer, it would’ve been absurd to push one group’s belief onto the whole of a population. Further, the supposed defense of all innocent persons would’ve trampled on the rights of people who may have believed differently, and without genuine evidence to the contrary (the Bible doesn’t count as evidence for non-believers, or even many Christians who view it in more metaphorical terms), there is no proper justification to eliminate a woman’s right to choose. The purpose of choice is that anyone can operate according to their own view of a gray area in general morality (By gray, I mean that there is no general consensus regarding the correct answer to this moral dilemma).
This victory is both a victory for secular America, as religious beliefs will not be forced upon the population, and a victory for the pro-choice movement. Both have come out on top in a state that is widely considered one of the most religious states in America. A Bible Belt state shooting down this initiative is both a surprise and a welcome development, as Americans in Mississippi have voted in a way that will respect all of its citizens. While this debate will surely come up again next year, secularists and pro-choice supporters can rest assure that another round went their way.