Pro-choice forces seek to pre­vent Miss. per­son­hood ref­er­en­dum

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

Step­ping into a grow­ing na­tional de­bate over abor­tion, the Mis­sis­sippi Supreme Court on June 6 heard ar­gu­ments about whether to al­low a “per­son­hood” amend­ment to re­main on the bal­lot this fall.

If passed by Mis­sis­sippi vot­ers in Novem­ber, Mea­sure 26 would de­fine a “per­son” in the state’s con­sti­tu­tion as “ev­ery hu­man be­ing from the mo­ment of fer­til­iza­tion, cloning or the func­tional equiv­a­lent thereof,” said spon­sors Les Ri­ley and Per­son­hood Mis­sis­sippi.

The amend­ment and oth­ers un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in other states are de­signed to ef­fec­tively out­law abor­tion and set up a po­ten­tial chal­lenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade de­ci­sion that struck down state laws against abor­tion in the United States.

Pro-choice sup­port­ers op­pose Mea­sure 26, and two Mis­sis­sippi women, Deb­o­rah Hughes and Cris­ten Hem­mins, are seek­ing to block the amend­ment from the bal­lot. Their case is sup­ported by lawyers associated with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, Planned Par­ent­hood Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ica and Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights.

In an hour­long session, Robert McDuff, a Jack­son, Miss., at­tor­ney for the plain­tiffs, told the nine jus­tices that they were sim­ply be­ing asked to de- cide “whether the rules were fol­lowed” in hav­ing Mea­sure 26 ap­proved for the bal­lot.

The peo­ple of Mis­sis­sippi voted in 1992 to cre­ate two ways to amend their state con­sti­tu­tion: gather sig­na­tures to put an ini­tia­tive on the bal­lot or have their leg­is­la­ture pass an amend- ment for vot­ers to ap­prove or re­ject, Mr. McDuff said.

Mea­sure 26 is un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause the 1992 law said that the ini­tia­tive process “shall not be used for the pro­posal, mod­i­fi­ca­tion or re­peal for any por­tion of the Bill of Rights of this con­sti­tu­tion,” he ar­gued.

Lib­erty Coun­sel lawyer Stephen Cramp­ton coun­tered that Mea­sure 26 is per­mis­si­ble be­cause it only clar­i­fies the mean­ing of a word, “per­son”, in the state’s Bill of Rights.

Mis­sis­sippi Supreme Court Pre­sid­ing Jus­tice Jess H. Dick- in­son and As­so­ciate Jus­tice Michael K. Ran­dolph fre­quently led the ques­tion­ing, which fo­cused on the mean­ings of words such as “mod­i­fi­ca­tion” and “amend,” and the rel­e­vance of an­other sec­tion in the Mis­sis­sippi Con­sti­tu­tion that al­lows the

To bol­ster their ar­gu­ments, Per­son­hood Mis­sis­sippi has been help­ing Re­becca Kiessling, whose mother was raped at knife­point, speak at events. “A baby is not the worst thing that could ever hap­pen to a rape vic­tim, an abor­tion is,” said Ms. Kiessling, who tells au­di­ences how her birth mother sought an abor­tion, which was il­le­gal at the time, but then gave birth and placed her daugh­ter up for adop­tion in­stead.

peo­ple to “al­ter and abol­ish their con­sti­tu­tion [. . . ] when­ever they deem it.”

Last fall, Hinds County Cir­cuit Judge Mal­colm Har­ri­son ruled that the pro­posed “per­son­hood” amend­ment could be placed be­fore vot­ers. The state con­sti­tu­tion “rec­og­nizes the right of cit­i­zens to amend their con­sti­tu­tion,” and the plain­tiffs “carry a heavy bur­den in at­tempt­ing to re­strict” that right, Judge Har­ri­son wrote.

Amend­ment sup­port­ers think their ap­proach will dis­al­low abor­tions, in­clud­ing for preg­nan­cies in­volv­ing rape. To bol­ster their ar­gu­ments, Per­son­hood Mis­sis­sippi has been help­ing Re­becca Kiessling, whose mother was raped at knife­point, speak at events.

“A baby is not the worst thing that could ever hap­pen to a rape vic­tim, an abor­tion is,” said Ms. Kiessling, who tells au­di­ences how her birth mother sought an abor­tion, which was il­le­gal at the time, but then gave birth and placed her daugh­ter up for adop­tion in­stead.

Sup­port­ers of the “per­son­hood” con­cept also think their ap­proach is key to pro­tect­ing dis­abled per­sons and the el­derly and block science ex­per­i­ments us­ing hu­man em­bryos.

A sim­i­lar amend­ment was twice re­jected by Colorado vot­ers, but ef­forts to pass per­son­hood amend­ments are pro­gress­ing in other states, in­clud­ing Louisiana and Alabama.

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