We Won a Thing: Mississippi Votes Against Classifying All Embryos As People

This was a big election week, with lots of great wins for people who care about all things good like reclaiming union rights in Ohio and recalling Russell Pearce, that guy who came up with that  “papers please” law in Arizona.

And then there was the exceptional failure of the Mississippi “Personhood Amendment.” Rejoice!

Now, let’s talk more about what the religious right is trying to do to get all up in your reproductive rights and take away access to basic healthcare for women.

Back in July Carmen gave us a marvelous overview of the ongoing attack by the GOP and religious right to women’s reproductive health.  The Mississippi “Personhood Amendment” is the most dramatic of these efforts. The amendment goes so far as to ban abortion even in the case of incest and rape and would ban some forms of birth control by redefining a “person” to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights further explains the reach of the “Personhood Amendment” (I’ve bolded one of the most important aspects of this for lesbians):

The amendment also could affect a wide range of other medical care, including many common forms of contraception, in-vitro fertilization, stem cell research, and medical treatment of pregnant women. Hormonal contraception that may prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, such as IUDs, could be banned. Physicians would likely stop performing in-vitro fertilization, in part because the process involves the creation of some embryos that are ultimately discarded or damaged.

The thought was that if the amendment could pass anywhere, the conservative electorate of Mississippi would be the ones to do it.  Fortunately 58% of voters said, no thank you very much I would not like to vote all my reproductive rights away if that’s ok with you.

Mother Jones reports on the failure of the amendment:

The primary reason for the measure’s failure was overreach. In recent weeks, opponents of the measure made the case to the public that it wasn’t really just about abortion, but could also have far-reaching impacts on birth control, in vitro fertilization, and a doctor’s ability to provide care for pregnant women. Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, pointed to the many grassroots and medical groups that got involved in the debate that were outside of the traditional abortion rights supporters like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. In the past weeks, those groups were also knocking on doors, appearing in public forums, and making phone calls.

This is definitely a victory for women’s rights, although reading reporting coming out of the anti-abortion community, it seems like they’re actually responsible for a significant chunk of their own defeat. Amanda Marcotte parses the difference between the anti-choice and “pro-life” camps which likely hindered the success of the amendment.

Writing for The Washington Post Jacques Berlinerblau calls those from the Christian religious right who supported this amendment, “the most swashbucklingest social movement out there”.  Berlinerblau continues, “They will pull out all the stops, give you the razzle dazzle, double-down on doubling down. And, yes, they will be back, bigger and better than ever.”

Well, I know some swashbuckling feminists who would disagree.

For more information about the history of birth control and abortion and how this issue has  become so politicized, listen to this recent Fresh Air interview with Jill Lepore, staff writer at The New Yorker and author of the recent piece Birthright.

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Jamie J. Hagen

Jamie lives in Boston and is currently a PhD student in Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a freelance writer and also a team associate for the Boston chapter of Hollaback!.

Jamie has written 76 articles for us.


  1. I’m glad this went down in flames. However, if you move it a few weeks along, I would be less glad.

    Call me a “Life begins when the pregnancy test says so” pro-lifer.

    I don’t have a problem with the pill, stem cell research, invitro, or even the day after pill.

    Even after the pregnancy test says so, I’m all for exceptions. Particularly when it comes to saving the life of the mother, even if it’s from her own hand.

    It’s about balance and fairness, in my opinion. I don’t think babies should be aborted just because they have birth defects. Don’t give me the “they would have such a hard life” excuse either…SO WHAT at least they have a life.

    I don’t know why the anti-choicers have to be so stinking unreasonable. I’m pro-life. I will fight for the baby…but an embryo is not a baby. A baby, requires a mother to begin nourishing them and taking care of them and that happens sometime AFTER implantation and likely well before the 2nd term.

    • I have similar feelings sometimes. It’s one more reason I’m glad I’m gay. The fear of having to make that will I, won’t I choice, weighing up something which I believe is morally wrong against my fervent desire to not be pregnant, would have me using a ridiculous amount of birth control AND stressing.

      But I don’t believe I have the right to make that decision for others, or judge them for it, and I do believe that women will continue getting abortions even if it is illegal, risking their lives and permitting the unscrupulous to profit. In addition to using the law to foist their own moral beliefs on others (similar to the anti-gay marriage lobby), the anti-choice camp uses an infantilising image of women in their rhetoric.

  2. This is one of those tricky issues, and I honestly think your stance on it evolves as you move through life and experience things for yourself. There’s this huge middle space where we all have different levels of comfort as to what we think is appropriate in terms of rights of the mother or in terms of what qualifies as a living person in the womb. What I think could be considered extremely pro-choice by some and what someone thinks I could consider even more progressive than my stance or extremely conservative. But that’s all viewed through the crazy lenses of our own lives and the experiences that we have, either ourselves or being there for another woman.

    But it’s pretty clear that regardless of your stance, this bill was just bad news and bad medicine, period. It’s application would have had far reaching effects and would have seriously hindered a physician’s ability to properly car for this patient, whether they were pregnant or not, gay or straight, wanting children or wanting to be responsible and careful about there not being anything accidental.

    The sad part is I know a lot of people who would vote for this, just because of the firm belief of life beginning at the moment of conception, without entirely grasping the damage it would do and danger it could put a lot of women in.

  3. I literally cannot describe how happy I am that this didn’t pass.

    Anyways, my general rule of thumb for determining abortion rights: cut it off when the fetus is generally viable. Typically, around the 6th month mark, I believe. Honestly, I don’t think we’ll ever “know” when a “human” begins. Obviously, a cell is living, but at what point does that growing number of cells develop consciousness as a human? Who knows. All I know is that someone can generally make a decision (aside from instances of the mother’s life being in jeopardy) before that point in time. So, once the fetus has passed the point at which it favors viability, not allow abortions after that.

    I don’t think anyone can tell people what to do with it before then…you never know what’s going on in someone’s life. I think people need to realize that people have sex for purposes other than childbearing, and most that engage in heterosexual sex do so with caution. Just having sex doesn’t mean you’re ready for kids.

    • It’s worth noting that with abortions after the fetus is normally viable, they are usually only performed in extreme circumstances – such as when the mother’s life is at risk (as with ectopic pregnancies or molar pregnancies) or when the fetus has birth defects that will prevent it from surviving outside the womb once it’s born.

        • Yep! I wasn’t saying you didn’t know that, just thought it was worth pointing out to those who didn’t!

          I think the only case where I’ve heard of a late-term abortion being performed for non-emergency reasons was where the girl getting it was 12 or something, and the time and money hurdles her state put in front of minors seeking abortions made it nearly impossible for her to get one earlier in the pregnancy.

  4. I was relieved to see that this bill didn’t pass, and it wasn’t even that close, lost by around 100,000 votes

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