Lawsuit filed to keep personhood initiative from ballot

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – A lawsuit has been filed to prevent Mississippians from voting on an anti-abortion rights proposal that, if approved, would define life as beginning at conception.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this month in Hinds County Circuit Court by Jackson attorney Rob McDuff and attorneys representing the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and others.
Les Riley of Pontotoc, the lead sponsor of “the personhood” initiative, which defines life as beginning “at the moment of fertilization,” expressed confidence Wednesday the courts would rule his proposal is constitutional.
McDuff, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Deborah Hughes and Cristen Hemmins, both Lafayette County residents, said the personhood proposal violates the state’s Constitution.
Mississippians have the right to bypass the legislative process and have an issue placed on the ballot if they can get signatures from 90,000 registered voters.
But the lawsuit contends state law and the Constitution prohibit the amending of the Bill of Rights through that process.
The lawsuit said the initiative would amend the Bill of Rights “to modify the term person to include ‘every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.’”
According to the lawsuit, the initiative would amend the existing Bill of Rights at least 10 times. McDuff said the initiative sponsors also are trying to make the initiative language part of the Bill of Rights.
The personhood initiative is scheduled to be on the November 2011 ballot when Mississippians elect a governor, other statewide officials, legislators and most county officials.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann announced in April that Riley had obtained the required signatures to place the issue on the ballot. Hosemann is listed as defendant in the suit.
On Wednesday, in response to the suit, Hosemann said he supports the proposal. “But regardless of my personal beliefs,” he said, “enough Mississippians felt it was important to sign the personhood petition to place the initiative on the ballot.”
Riley said, “For nearly 40 years unborn people have been denied their rights … I am not at all surprised the same people would try to deny the rights of the voters of Mississippi.”