Mississippi high court upholds election initiative to redefine personhood

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Mississippi [official website] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] that an initiative seeking to redefine personhood can be placed on the November 2011 general election ballot. The initiative, Measure 26 [materials], would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons” to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” Two Mississippi citizens filed the lawsuit after it was qualified, claiming the initiative violated Article 15, Section 273(5)(a) [text, PDF] of the Mississippi Constitution. The court refused to rule on the constitutionality of the initiative itself, but concluded that it could not interfere with or question the validity of a legislative proposal prior to the election. The court, therefore, ultimately dismissed the challenge on the basis that Measure 26 is not ripe for review. The Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (ACLU) [advocacy website] Nsombi Lambright expressed her discontent with the ruling and called on voters to reject the measure:

We’re disappointed with the ruling. A measure will be on the ballot that will allow the government to dictate what is a private matter that’s best decided by a woman, her family and within the context of her faith. Mississippi voters should reject this intrusive and dangerous measure.

Personhood USA [official website] praised the ruling [press release], saying “Mississippians volunteered thousands of hours of their time to ensure that voters would have the right to vote on this prolife amendment.”

Colorado voters struck down [Denver Post report] a similar ballot initiative [text, PDF] in November 2010 that would have amended the state’s constitution [text] to extend rights to fetuses [JURIST report] and would have effectively outlawed abortion [JURIST news archive]. In November 2007, the Colorado Supreme Court [official website] approved the language of an anti-abortion group’s proposed ballot initiative that would amend the Colorado constitution [JURIST report] to define a fertilized egg as a “person” entitled to “inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law” under the state constitution. JURIST Guest Columnist Caitlin Borgmann argues that redefining personhood is just one of several approaches aimed at curtailing abortion [JURIST op-ed].

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