Defeat may not end 'personhood' efforts in Miss.

November 14, 2011 11:18:00 AM



JACKSON -- The "personhood" proposal contained in Initiative 26, or something like it, could resurface next year in the Mississippi Legislature, Republican Gov.-elect Phil Bryant said. 


But he stepped back from comments he made before the election that the anti-abortion initiative's defeat would mean victory for Satan. 


Mississippi already has some of the nation's toughest abortion regulations, and Bryant noted that anti-abortion bills are often introduced. 


"I would be very surprised if a member of the Legislature didn't introduce some legislation similar to that," the Republican said Wednesday. 


Voters rejected the proposed state constitutional amendment by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin on Tuesday, with 98 percent of precincts reporting. The amendment would have defined life as beginning at fertilization. It sought to ban abortion, and many physicians said it could have made some birth control illegal, as well as deterring some doctors from performing in vitro fertilization. 


Some lawmakers already are looking at further ways to regulate or restrict abortion, said state Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula. 


"I think it's going to be something that a lot of senators talk about because of the amendment," Watson said Friday, adding that some abortion opponents were surprised by the defeat. 


Bryant backed away from comments he made at a rally Monday in Tupelo. Standing next to the Rev. Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association on election eve, Bryant said the defeat of Initiative 26 would mean "Satan wins." 


After the election, Bryant seemed to offer only lukewarm support for a rerun of the personhood debate. 


"I believe there could have been a better job at presenting the information on 26," Bryant said when asked if he believed Satan had won. "The people of the state of Mississippi have spoken on that issue, and one thing I've learned to do is listen to the people." 


Bryant said he was upset because he felt opponents were distorting the issues. 


"When any political issue is in front of the people, all I ask is that the truth be told," he said. "We can certainly differ on our opinions, but I hope we could keep the facts together." 


Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who voiced doubts about the amendment but ultimately said he voted for it, said Thursday that he thought proponents had erred in putting the amendment on the ballot through a petition instead of going through the Legislature. 


"If it had gone to the Legislature, the wrinkles in it would have been worked out, the ambiguities would have been understood and eliminated. Instead, these were some people from Colorado who had an initiative they tried twice to pass in Colorado and they couldn't," Barbour said. "And they thought, 'What's the most pro-life state in the country?' Well it's Mississippi. So they came to Mississippi with a half-baked initiative." 


Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, said he would consider retooling the amendment. 


"That exact language has been soundly rejected and I don't think that would by a wise political move, but to improve upon the language would be a possibility," said McDaniel, a leading abortion foe among lawmakers. 


Les Riley of Pontotoc, head of Personhood Mississippi, an affiliate of Personhood USA, an umbrella group for similar efforts around the nation, said he is considering the best course of future action. Revising language in the Legislature is one possible route. 


"We'd like to answer their concerns and answer those questions and see if Mississippi voters and legislators would pass legislation to protect every life," Riley said Friday. 


One voter who'd need to be persuaded is Kim Bourn of Madison, an accountant and married mother of two. She said Initiative 26 was potentially too far-reaching. 


Bourn, now 40, said that during her first pregnancy, in 1994, she was carrying a daughter that she and her husband had already decided to name Meredith Anne. At 20 weeks, halfway into the pregnancy, her doctor in Starkville discovered the baby had a fatal defect -- the heart would pump fluid in but not out. 


Bourn said a specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson confirmed the condition. "The choices were to induce labor and the baby would die naturally during childbirth, or carry the baby until she died and I would naturally go into childbirth at that point," she recalled. 


The newlyweds called on their minister and prayed. 


"We just decided it was best for this baby who was sick to go ahead and go into the arms of God," Bourn said. "I was visibly pregnant. I couldn't carry around this baby." 


She paused. 


"Maybe that was selfish, too," she said. "It was just emotionally the hardest thing either of us has ever gone through. ... It was a horrible, horrible, horrible time." 


Bourn, who opposes abortion, said she and her husband opposed Initiative 26 because they feared it would limit options in situations like hers in 1994. 


"I am thankful that we had the choice to make on what we wanted to do," she said. "I would hate for anyone to not ever have that choice." 


Supporters of the personhood concept, though, think they can overcome such doubts. They have vowed to push the amendment in five other states this year. Colorado-based Personhood USA said Thursday that it had topped 1 million signatures in support of its position, in part because of publicity generated by the Mississippi vote. 


"Win or lose, Personhood USA and millions of pro-life Americans are prepared to dedicate our lives to this cause," Keith Mason, the group's president, said in a statement. "We will lose some battles, but the injustice of abortion cannot last in a society upholding our highest ideals."