.- An upcoming Mississippi ballot initiative will give voters the chance to extend the legal definition of “person” to include unborn children, from the beginning of their biological development.
“It’s a really big deal because Mississippi is one of most pro-life states in America, and it looks like it’s going to be the first to pass,” said Keith Mason, president and co-founder of Personhood USA.
Mississippi voters will determine the fate of Amendment 26, known as the “Personhood Amendment,” on Nov. 8.
Mason said in an interview with CNA that he hopes a victory in Mississippi will give “a lot of enthusiasm and adrenaline to the pro-life movement.”
He explained that the amendment has enjoyed wide bipartisan support, including that of Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is running for governor of Mississippi.
On Nov. 4, the measure gained the support of the state’s current governor, Haley Barbour, who cautiously voiced his support for the amendment.
“I have some concerns about it,” Barbour said. “But I think all in all, I believe life begins at conception, so I think the right thing to do was to vote for it.”
Catholic Bishop Joseph N. Latino of Jackson was also circumspect about the amendment, stating that “the Diocese is not taking a position for or against Proposition 26.”
In an Oct. 28 letter, Bishop Latino expressed support for the goal of the amendment but raised concerns about the unintended legal challenges it could raise because of the many references to “persons” in various state laws.
He said individual Catholics should “make their own choice on the initiative based on an informed conscience.”
Personhood USA has spent several years working through voter ballot initiatives to put amendments before the people.
The non-profit organization was able to add personhood amendments on the ballot in Colorado in 2008 and 2010.
Both amendments failed, but the support for the amendment increased from the first election to the second.
“What happened in Colorado is a lesson for the entire nation,” said Mason.
He explained that the demographics of Colorado make it a “test market state” and allow it to be used as a template for the rest of the country.
The amendments in Colorado illustrated an incremental positive effect, something that Mason views as key in ultimately banning abortion across the nation.
Mason has studied how the momentum of social movements has historically grown. Using the examples of the abolition of the slave trade, the civil rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement, he explained that a correlation exists between public awareness of a social movement and support for the movement.
Ballot initiatives to allow women’s suffrage were introduced year after year in South Dakota, Mason explained. Although they continued to be defeated, they gained support every year that they were on the ballot, until women eventually secured the right to vote.
“Coming back repetitively, again and again, and pushing our message and just tirelessly fighting for the dignity of those pre-born children is the path to victory in America,” he said.
Mason acknowledged that a victory in Mississippi could lead to the issue being brought before the Supreme Court.
If the state of Mississippi acknowledges unborn human beings as persons, a 10th Amendment battle could be raised, with the state of Mississippi holding a different interpretation that that of the federal government, he said.
However, the Supreme Court is not Mason’s ultimate goal.
“This could rise or fall in the Supreme Court many, many times,” he explained.
Rather, the goal is to raise awareness about “a federal constitutional amendment.”
“Raising awareness is one of the biggest keys to actually winning this issue,” he said.
Mason believes that local efforts to raise awareness have already yielded positive results.
“The personhood protection in the 14th Amendment is being debated now in the presidential debates,” he said. “That’s largely because we’re stirring things up on the grassroots level.”
In recent months, Personhood USA has been gathering signatures to put an amendment on the ballot in other states, including Florida, Ohio, Montana, Nevada, California and Colorado.
“So this is going to set us up well for 2012 to make human dignity a major issue of the next election cycle,” Mason explained.
“We’re at the cusp of a defining moment for the pro-life movement this year in Mississippi,” he said.
“It’s going to be great.”