Personhood fails, other state initiatives pass

Published 1:05 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi voters Tuesday defeated a ballot initiative that would have declared life begins at fertilization and passed two others that approved voter ID and limited the state’s ability to take land for economic development.

The so-called “personhood” initiative was rejected by more than 55 percent of voters, falling far short of the threshold needed for it to be enacted. If it had passed, it was virtually assured of drawing legal challenges because it conflicts with the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a legal right to abortion. Supporters of the initiative wanted to provoke a lawsuit to challenge the landmark ruling.

The measure divided the medical and religious communities and caused some of the most ardent abortion opponents, including Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, to waver with their support.

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Opponents said the measure would have made birth control, such as the morning-after pill or the intrauterine device, illegal. More specifically, the ballot measure called for abortion to be prohibited “from the moment of fertilization” — wording that opponents suggested would have deterred physicians from performing in vitro fertilization because they would fear criminal charges if an embryo doesn’t survive.

Also on the ballot, voters approved a proposed constitutional amendment to require that voters present government-issued identification at the polls.

The issue has been debated at the Mississippi Legislature for 15 years. Republican Sen. Joey Fillingane of Sumrall with backing of the Mississippi GOP launched a petition drive that got the initiative on the ballot.

The amendment seeks to require every person voting in Mississippi to show a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID at the polls.

While supporters called it commonsense legislation, opponents said it could be viewed by black citizens as an attempt to diminish minority voting.

“It is unfortunate that as it relates to voting rights and access to the ballot box, Mississippi has gone backward,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP.

He said voter ID has not been shown to decrease incidents of voting fraud.

Voters also approved a constitutional amendment aimed at limiting governments’ ability to seize property and hand it over to private developers.

The ballot initiative on the power of eminent domain pitted landowner rights against economic development.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, his economic development chief and many local officials opposed the amendment, which was pushed by the politically powerful Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

The amendment seeks to prevent the taking of private land for private development. It keeps in place the state’s authority to seize private land for public-use projects, such as streets or bridges.

Leland Speed, leader of the Mississippi Development Authority, and Barbour have both contended that car manufacturers Nissan and Toyota wouldn’t have come to Mississippi had eminent domain restraints been in place.

The Farm Bureau contends homeowners and landowners deserve protection from the confiscation of their property under the guise of economic development for private companies.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision in Kelo vs. City of New London that a Connecticut city could take people’s homes and turn the property over to a private party to develop the property for its own profit. The court justified this result because the increased tax revenue on the developed property would benefit the public and the use of the property was, therefore, a public use.

Since 2005, more than 40 states have strengthened their private property rights laws to keep property from being taken by eminent domain and used for economic development.