Due to grassroots organizing and education, the amendment went down to decisive defeat. Politicians take heed.
Tuesday’s solid defeat of the Mississippi Personhood amendment is a victory against extremism and for women’s health and rights, but it is also a big win for progressive political organizing. Voters in the state that Gallup ranks as the most conservative in the nation soundly rejected the move to grant legal status to embryos from the moment of fertilization. The law would have banned abortion without exceptions and directly challenged Roe v. Wade, but it also threatened some forms of birth control and emergency contraception that may result in the loss of embryos, as well as infertility treatments that make use of them.
What’s most interesting about this win is that just ten days ago polls projected exactly the opposite outcome. That was before the Mississippians for Healthy Families Coalition, a local campaign supported strategically and financially by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the ACLU, hit the ground. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the PPFA board.) According to Planned Parenthood, the campaign raised $1.5 million dollars, opened four offices across the state, deployed 50 full-time staff, and recruited nearly 1,000 volunteers, most of them in a classic get out the vote operation that made more than 400,000 phone calls and knocked on some 20,000 doors. This tireless effort closed a 31-point gap in just 10 days of active campaigning, possibly establishing a record for voter turnaround in this country.
When it was all over, even outgoing Republican Governor Haley Barbour, a reliable conservative, expressed misgivings about the amendment as government gone too far. (Though in what is now becoming classic behavior for GOP officials and candidates confused about how much they must pander to the party’s right wing, he then reversed himself and said he would vote for it.) The state’s voters, and especially its women, were smarter. Once they understood that the law would have threatened birth control and mandated government intervention in decisions that ought to be personal, including the right to end a potentially life-threatening pregnancy, wise citizens of all political stripes simply voted against it.
The Mississippi victory ought to be viewed as an omen for next year’s presidential and congressional campaigns. For years it has been perfectly clear that a sizable majority of Americans don’t want to criminalize abortion or compromise access to contraception and sensible sex education. But unlike the determined minority of anti-choice and puritanical extremists on the other side, these folks have never privileged social concerns in the voting booth. Perhaps understandably, what’s mattered more to them are economic issues or considerations of national security, and they have moved back and forth between Democrats and Republicans depending on which party’s leadership inspired the most comfort in these zones.