Concerns about women’s access to contraception contributed to the last-minute defeat of the Mississippi’s “personhood” anti-abortion amendment, abortion rights supporters said after Tuesday’s vote.
The amendment, earlier seen as a shoo-in, lost by a 16 point margin in one of the most conservative and anti-abortion states in the country. Its supporters are seeking to get similar “personhood” initiatives on the 2012 ballot in several states, including Nevada, Ohio and Florida.
Opponents of the amendment, which would have given fetuses full rights as persons from the moment of fertilization and could have criminalized forms of birth control that prevent implantation, said it reflected a growing effort by the anti-abortion movement to target reproductive health services beyond abortion. And that, they said, places it out of step with public opinion even in a conservative state like Mississippi.
White House spokesman Jay Carney made that point in a statement issued Wednesday morning.
“Last night’s vote was a victory for women and families,” he stated. “The president believes that extreme amendments like this would do real damage to a woman’s constitutional right to make her own health care decisions, including some very personal decisions on contraception and family planning.”
Planned Parenthood spokesman Tait Sye said, “Contraception is basic health care and used by virtually all women, and for them to appear to oppose contraception is to appear to oppose mainstream women and … what women use on a daily basis.”
Advocates on both sides said that concerns over contraception were one of several elements that turned public sentiment. Some anti-abortion leaders, including the Catholic bishop of Jackson, expressed concern that the sweeping language could lead to a legal setbacks for the anti-abortion movement if it were struck down in court. Doctors also organized to raise worries that it could make it impossible for them to treat life-threatening pregnancies. And some anti-abortion voters believe the procedure should be available if a woman’s life is in danger.
A group backing the initiative, Personhood USA, blamed a misinformation campaign and vowed to try again, in Mississippi and elsewhere.
“We lost in Mississippi because of lies Planned Parenthood spread, and we weren’t able to combat them,” said the group’s communication director Jennifer Mason. “They fabricated facts about the initiative but now we know their game plan and we’ll be ready for them right out of the gate the next time around.”