By EMILY W. PETTUS
JACKSON (AP) — Both candidates for Mississippi governor say they’re voting for a “personhood” ballot initiative that declares life begins when a human egg is fertilized.
Republican Phil Bryant is co-chairman of the “Yes on 26” campaign that’s pushing for the proposed amendment to the state constitution. Democrat Johnny DuPree says he’s voting for Initiative 26 because it matches his personal beliefs.
On the Nov. 8 ballot, voters will be asked to answer yes or no to the question: “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?”
Opponents say defining life as beginning at fertilization could block some common forms of birth control and deter Mississippi physicians from performing in vitro fertilization because they’d fear criminal charges if an embryo doesn’t survive.
Supporters see the initiative as a way to provoke a court fight to try to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a legal right to abortion.
“To say that there is that right within the constitution for an abortion is something that many of us do not believe that exists, that it is connected somehow to a privacy right,” said Bryant, the current lieutenant governor.
At a “Yes on 26” news conference in September, Bryant was asked whether women should get to choose whether to keep or terminate pregnancies.
“They can become pregnant as often as they want to, if that’s the question,” Bryant said. “Now, if your question is do they have the right to an abortion? What we’re saying is that child has certainly his rights and her rights, too. So, if we are going to define them as a human being, certainly it is impossible for us — for me or others in this government — to deny that human being as he exists or she exists, those basic human rights. And I do not have the right as one human being to take the life of another.”
DuPree told The Associated Press in a separate interview this month that he believes “fertilization is the beginning of life.”
“The reason I have to say that is because my wife and I were pregnant when we married,” said DuPree, who’s been married nearly 39 years. “We were teenagers. We married. Didn’t abort. We married. My daughter who we didn’t abort has a 4-year-old son. He is an in vitro baby. So, can you see why? Personhood ... starts at fertilization. If we didn’t feel that way, we wouldn’t have had our baby. And if we felt that way, I wouldn’t have my grandbaby.”
DuPree said he has some concerns about how the personhood initiative — if approved — will affect birth control and in vitro fertilization, as well as how it will affect victims of rape and incest.
“But that’s not what this is about. That’s not the initiative. That’s down the road,” DuPree said.
One abortion clinic operates in Mississippi. The state requires in-person counseling and a 24-hour wait before any woman can terminate a pregnancy. It also has a law requiring parental or judicial consent for any minor to get an abortion.
The Mississippi State Medical Association says it is not supporting Initiative 26 — a step short of actively opposing it. The Mississippi section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the initiative, as does the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which says it would “unduly restrict an infertile patient’s right to make decisions about embryos created as part of the in vitro fertilization process.”