If a life-begins-at-conception ballot measure fails in the Bible Belt state of Mississippi, where can it win?
That's the question that backers of the southern state's anti-abortion "personhood" amendment should be weighing after voters on Tuesday soundly defeated the controversial, unworkable initiative.
Instead, the Colorado-based movement, whose personhood campaign has divided even anti-abortion forces, intends to take its fight to at least six other states in 2012. North Dakota could be one of them, and it wouldn't surprise us to see a Minnesota measure at some point.
No matter where this ill-advised initiative pops up next, voters should reject it. The measure pushed by the group in Mississippi would have outlawed abortion and potentially birth control pills, in vitro fertilization and medical treatment for a woman having a miscarriage.
It may also have required a massive overhaul of property, tax and inheritance laws to deal with the legal mayhem created by defining a newly fertilized egg as a person.
Mississippi instead chose common sense and compassion, and decided against footing the legal bill for a group aiming to mount a legal challenge to the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision.
The conservative state's voters have good company in rejecting radical abortion restrictions. Colorado voters resoundingly defeated personhood initiatives in 2008 and 2010.
South Dakota voters have twice rejected ballot measures -- in 2006 and 2008 -- that would have placed sweeping limitations on abortions in the state.
Efforts in other states to put a personhood measure on the ballot have failed to collect the needed number of signatures to prompt a vote. The measure's champions haven't had success legislatively, either.
Personhood legislation has gone before North Dakota lawmakers three times and has never passed both chambers.
Nearly four decades after the landmark Roe decision, the country remains divided about this medical procedure, but polls routinely find that a quiet majority of Americans occupy the middle ground.
Abortion remains problematic for many, as it should. But at the same time, voters aren't comfortable with far-reaching bans that encroach too far into decisionmaking best made by individuals and families.
The repeated failures of sweeping state bans strongly underscores this. And the Mississippi ballot measure's failure supports another routine poll finding: Americans strongly support access to birth control, even if their church's leadership dictates otherwise.
Trying to criminalize birth control not only revealed how extreme Personhood USA is, it raised broader questions about the aims of other anti-abortion groups. Do they also want to restrict access to contraceptives relied on by millions of American women? If so, they're incredibly out of touch.
Politicians too often duck reproductive health questions, fearing backlash from vocal minorities on both sides of the issue if they give a nuanced answer. That ought to change in 2012.
Having the personhood measure rejected in Mississippi -- one of the nation's most conservative states -- suggests Americans understand the issue's complexity. They deserve to know if their potential leaders do, too.
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