Judge says 'personhood' measure can go on ballot

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi judge has ruled that a proposed “personhood” amendment seeking to define life as beginning at conception can be placed before voters in 2011.

Hinds County Circuit Judge Malcolm Harrison issued the decision Tuesday.

While abortion has been the central issue in debate about the initiative, opposing sides in the lawsuit had clashed over whether the “personhood” amendment oversteps the boundaries for proposed state constitutional amendments.

Opponents of the amendment had argued that the initiative process can’t be used to change the state constitution’s bill of rights. They said the amendment would change the bill of rights by reshaping the definition of the term “person,” which is not specifically defined now.

Harrison, in his decision, said the initiative received more than the required number of signatures to be placed on the ballot “and the constitution recognizes the right of citizens to amend their constitution.”

Both sides had said they would appeal a ruling that went against them.

If the amendment goes on the ballot and is approved, it’s not clear whether it would outlaw abortions in Mississippi if the U.S. Supreme Court has not overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized most abortions. Those challenging the amendment say it raises complicated questions about what would become of frozen embryos that remain after a woman undergoes in vitro fertilization.

Supporters of the “personhood” amendment gathered more than 106,000 signatures to try to put it on the ballot in 2011 — the same election in which voters will choose a governor, legislators and other state and county officials.

Groups that support abortion rights — Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the state and national chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union — helped file the lawsuit in July. The conservative Liberty Council is helping represent initiative sponsor Les Riley of Pontotoc.

A similar “personhood” amendment will be on the ballot in Colorado this November.

The Associated Press