Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment fails

The fate of that issue  — which Catholic bishops declined to support — was one of the more closely watched votes in yesterday’s election.  The amendment was resoundingly rejected.


Mississippi voters Tuesday defeated a ballot initiative that would’ve declared life begins at fertilization, a proposal that supporters sought in the Bible Belt state as a way to prompt a legal challenge to abortion rights nationwide.

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.

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.

Supporters were trying to impose their religious beliefs on others by forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies, including those caused by rape or incest, opponents said.

Amy Brunson voted against the measure, in part because she has been raped. She also has friends and family that had children through in vitro fertilization and she was worried this would end that process.

“The lines are so unclear on what may or may not happen. I think there are circumstances beyond everybody’s control that can’t be regulated through an amendment,” said Brunson, a 36-year-old dog trainer and theater production assistant from Jackson.

Hubert Hoover, a cabinet maker and construction worker, voted for the amendment.

“I figure you can’t be half for something, so if you’re against abortion you should be for this. You’ve either got to be wholly for something or wholly against it,” said Hoover, 71, who lives in a Jackson suburb.

Read more.


  1. Political solutions alone cannot heal moral ills.

  2. Fiergenholt says:


    What a wise lady you are!

  3. Amen to that Fran. An evil as great as abortion can only be overcome in, with, and through Christ; Eucharist/Mass and the rosary.

    Sadly, if MI could only muster up 45% of the votes, image how much worse the rest of the country would vote on this issue.

    Lastly, where WERE the bishops?

  4. Sad. I so wanted this to pass.

  5. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    My understanding is that the bishops considered supporting the law, but legal experts considered it to be seriously flawed. There was too much about the bill that was ambiguous, and they knew it would likely not survive a legal challenge if passed. They decided that having the Church attached to a failed amendment would ultimately be a setback for both the pro-life movement and the influence of the Catholic Church in Mississippi (where Catholics are a distinct minority.)

    Dcn. G.

  6. Good to know Dcn. Greg, thanks!

  7. I would like to see an end to abortion, but I would also like to know that people’s hearts will change and not only laws.

  8. This amendment was asking the state to enforce what the churches could not convince their parishioners to do from the pulpit — not have an abortion. If there is success from the pulpit then the laws and court cases don’t matter — abortions will cease even if legally allowed.

    The question is, why has the pulpit been unsuccessful? A corollary question is, will the pulpit EVER be successful on this issue? A third question is, should the state even be asked to enforce a pulpit issue?

    Catholics especially should be careful of mixing church and state. Catholics are not even considered Christian by most evangelical churches. State prayers have historically been Protestant versions. Government posted Ten Commandments have historically been the King James version. Catholics should not yearn for the “good old days”, for those were the days of Catholic persecution in this country.

  9. I think the flaw was that the language of the bill would protect (and indirectly encourage) surrogacy and other “deisgner baby” type experimentation? It did not confine its definition of personhood to babies conceived through sexual intercourse.

    I am just guessing. Not sure why they declined to support it but I can’t believe it’s because of a Roe-based concern.

  10. naturgesetz says:

    The Church does not ask the state to enforce strictly religious commandments, such as worshipping God. But it supports laws against things that are wrong even apart from religion. For example, our courts rely on oaths to get people to tell the truth, so perjury, in addition to being a sin, is a crime.

    In preaching from the pulpit, the Church tells the faithful that certain behaviors are sinful; but in addressing the citizens in a democracy, the Church puts forth arguments based on the nature of man and society (natural law), arguments which we think are valid even for non-believers.

    Deacon Greg This is my first comment this morning. The first time I tried to post it, I got an error message that said, “You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.” Can you do anything to get these irrational error messages replaced with some that say what they really mean, or get the filters adjusted so that they don’t block people for no good reason?

    I got the same inapposite error message on my second attempt to post as well.

  11. No problem with putting forth arguments — problem with enacting law which forces all citizens to support those arguments, some which non-believers do not find valid.

    I received the same error message when attempting to post.

  12. Me too!

  13. Fran, a funny thing about human nature is the way hearts frequently change, sometimes in good ways, sometimes not, in response to changes in the civil law. For good or ill, the civil law is a moral teacher.

  14. I get that crazy error message about osting too quickly also. Luckily when I click back, my comment has not disappeared (or that would really tick me off) and when I re-submit it takes the second time. That’s been happening for a week or so. It doesn’t seem to make any sense.

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    “It did not confine its definition of personhood to babies conceived through sexual intercourse.”

    So… you’re saying we should tell people that designer babies aren’t people? Just do whatever you want to the nonhuman human-genies?

    Or are you saying that fertilization was defined in such a way as to exclude artificially inseminated babies from personhood?

  16. I was going to say a similar thing to Fran. Laws reflect moral principles which then create a line in our behavior and thought. There’s a symbiotic relationship, not just one way.

  17. Chris Sullivan says:

    It is my understanding that the Catholic Magisterium does not have a defined position on exactly when a fertilised egg becomes a person. We don’t know for sure exactly when God infuses the soul, and given the rather high death rate of fertilized eggs in the early stages of life, there are sound reasons to think it may be some time after conception.

    Because the Church doesn’t know for sure, we err on the side of caution, and in favor of the potentiality of the conceived human life, by defending human life from the moment of conception even though we are not sure whether or not a person exists at that early stage.

    The Bishops’ reluctance to support this proposed law seems to have a theological basis as well as a prudential basis.

    God Bless

  18. That is my understanding, also. And, if I remember correctly, even Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas were not in agreement on the time that the soul is present. I also seem to remember that one of them posited that the female receives the soul at a later stage than the male. Of course both those points are from a long-ago lesson and I stand corrected from someone better versed. If you do correct me, please cite the source so I can store it for future reference.

  19. Holly Hansen says:

    Well said. In the very conservative very evangelical state of Mississippi some good old critical thinking was going on. Bravo Mississippians !

  20. naturgesetz says:

    The precise time of ensoulment is not the question. That is a theological question which mat be unanswerable. But the issue is not theological. It is a matter of natural right. Whether ensouled or not, from fertilization on, there is a living being that is a member of the human race, not some other species. Abortion kills a living human being, and we do not have a right to kill innocent human beings.

  21. @Chris & Jake

    Are you saying the Catholic Church supports abortion at the time of conception? As far as I understand it, the Catholic Church sees life beginning at conception.

  22. Chris Sullivan says:

    No, I am not saying that. An egg and a sperm are alive, but not human. A fertilized egg is human but not necessarily an ensouled person. Being alive is not necessarily to be a person.

    God Bless

  23. As I understand it, the Catholic Church assumes ensoulment (is that a word?) at conception. The Church does not know for sure. See my comments above referencing St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. And because they do not know for sure, the Church has only offered an Official Teaching on the subject and has not declared life-at-conception infallibly. This means each person is responsible for their own thoughts on the subject following their own conscience, a conscience formed with due diligence consideration of the teachings and as non-biased a use of one’s God-given intelligence as is possible.

  24. Manny, I’ve written an abortion philosophy that’s been reviewed & approved refuting abortion using laws of nature, properties of elements, & mathematical principles. I can either mail it or e-mail it to you &/or anyone else. It’s 9 pgs. long. My last premise was: To be able to end a life one minute but not the next is absurd. Proof: Where something is does not change what it is. Our live cycle is a continiuum whose parts are not to be separated or separately discerned. Therefore, to expel an embryo/fetus is to deprive it of its rights to continue developing into a more mature human being & ultimately deprive it of its rights to remain a member of the human race. My e-mail address is: proudmomplc@yahoo.com

  25. naturgesetz says:

    Life at conception is simply a biological fact, not something the Church needs to teach. The Church does not have a teaching on when ensoulment occurs. But ensoulment is irrelevant. The Church has consistently and clearly taught that abortion at any stage is gravely wrong. Vatican II put it this way: “[A]bortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.” A conscience which can find abortion morally licit is an erroneous conscience.

    For the Church’s clear teaching on abortion, go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and in this excerpt
    read numbers 2270 through 2275.

  26. You offer an Official Teaching link. I admit there is an Official Teaching, so we do not differ on that.

    Our difference is the result each person obtains from a conscientious review of the issue. Your contention, if I understand it correctly, is that there is only one valid conclusion. My contention, absent an infallible ruling (which is then a non-debatable tenet of the faith), is that other conclusions are not only possible, but acceptable.

    Under your logic Official equals Infallible, which is not true.

  27. Yes, you often get error messages like that when posting to this patheos site. You also get Java Script errors and of course the too spammy message.

    However, it appears that some posts by some are simply blocked entirely as with my wife Greta..Guess she is far to radical in her push to fight abortion. Blocked without comment…

    [Carl...Patheos upgraded the Word Press software a week or so ago and it's giving all of us fits. As for Greta being blocked from the blog: her "push to fight abortion" wasn't an issue, and I never questioned it. I always let her voice her opinion, no matter how "radical." I welcome all points of view, as long as they are expressed respectfully and responsibly. But the fact is, I'd warned her on more than one occasion that she was eating up too much space in the comments and monopolizing the conversation. She ignored me. For months, I endured complaining emails from other readers, wondering why I didn't just ban her. I cut her a lot of slack, and let her get away with far too much. Well, last week she accused me of supporting Obama and the "party of death." Enough. That was the last straw. She knows better than that. You come into my house and leave heel marks on the furniture, I don't invite you back. Good bye and Godspeed. Dcn. G]

  28. naturgesetz says:

    Jake —
    In addition to what is infallibly defined by a pope or council, there is also the ordinary Magisterium.
    See No. 892.

    It seems to me that your contention that absent an infallible definition, “other conclusions are not only possible, but acceptable,” disregards the religious assent owed to the ordinary Magisterium.

  29. Deacon Norb says:

    In my Midwestern parish, we were assigned a new pastor on July 1. He is fairly young as priests go (early 40′s) but in a prior assignment he had served some time as a “Death Row Chaplain.” In his new assignment with us, he quickly realized that he had three “active” deacons and two on “senior/emeritus” status. The third Sunday of each month was then selected as “Deacons Preaching Sunday.”

    Over the past week or so, the issue of what to do with the third Sunday of January surfaced since the third Sunday in January is traditionally set aside for a “Row-versus-Wade” remembrance. We are still under some discussion here — all of us see that repeating the same tired old anti-abortion themes is little more than “preaching to the choir.”

    Knowing that no previous pastor had ever been involved with Death Row Chaplaincy, the deacons suggested that the pastor take the preaching assignment on the week-end of the 14/15 and introduce the parish to that dimension of the Seamless-Robe. The deacons would then take the following weekend and build upon what the pastor lays out for the congregation.

    Not sure how all this will wash out. Stay tuned!

  30. If the ordinary Magesterium’s considered opinion is infallible in nature, then you are right.

    On the other hand, if the ordinary Magesterium’s offering is not an immutable tenet of faith but only an opinion placed there for serious consideration by Catholics, then I stand by my statement. For “serious consideration” is just that, and not blind, unquestioning acceptance.

  31. Carl

    Let me back up Deacon Greg here. On a number of occasions I had to politely ask “greta” to confine her comments to 100 words of text with three main points because she was abusing the blog-stream.

    Now I will tell you the same thing. This is a very respectful community of bloggers who follow this stream. You do not play by the rules, you are corrected; If you still do not follow the rules, you may be corrected again. But I would have used the “Three strikes and your out” rule. Instead, Dcn Greg has been very patient.

  32. I find it interesting that someone that often talks about the issue of rich and poor is against political solutions. I would assume that by this you would agree that having the government take money from one person by the use of force to put into a big government program that selects who to give some of these funds to is also not useful in fixing moral ills???

    Or how about big government soulitions to what many call social justice or environmental moral issues? Just curious as to where moral issues start and stop with the party of abortion.

  33. The ordinary Magisterium is not quite infallible, but way more than “only an opinion.”

    As the Catechism puts it in the excerpt to which I directed you, “To this ordinary teaching the faithful ‘are to adhere … with religious assent’ which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.”

    The “are to adhere … with the religious assent,” is a quote from Vatican II.

    To treat the ordinary Magisterium as “only an opinion” — one among many — is, it seems to me to disregard the Council’s teaching that a “religious assent” is required. It would seem to me that for someone todecide he didn’t have to folow the ordinary Magissterium where it has been clear and consistent, at a minimum one would need to be satisfied that there was clear and irrefutable proof that the teaching was in error — not debatable, but erroneous (if it is debatable, then religious assent gives the decision to the Magisterium).


  1. [...] The Mississippi amendment on personhood failed.  I am not surprised.  As I mentioned the other day, I think it is probably because they used personhood instead of life.  I think it is a case that demonstrates how we must use language carefully and not to put ammendments together in a quick manner. [...]

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