Tomorrow, Mississippi voters will decide whether to impose a set of far-reaching regulations on abortion and birth control, when they vote on Initiative 26, an amendment to the Mississippi constitution that would redefine “person” to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization.” If passed, Initiative 26 would make abortion illegal, including for women who are victims of rape and incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. It would also outlaw emergency contraception and other kinds of hormonal birth control, and put the status of in vitro fertilization into jeopardy. If passed, the initiative would likely face an immediate legal challenge.
Abortion is already difficult to access in Mississippi: in 2008, 99% of Mississippi counties had no abortion provider. But the measure wouldn’t just impact the legality or availability of abortion; it could have far-reaching consequences for women’s medical care. Even for Americans who consider themselves “pro-life,” the measure is highly controversial (and similar measures have already twice failed in Colorado). Although polling on attitudes about personhood amendments are hard to come by, most Americans believe that abortion should be available in certain circumstances. Strong majorities of Americans, including Republicans and white evangelical Protestants, also favor making birth control more accessible for low-income women, indicating a broad-based level of support for hormonal contraceptives.
In other words, the “personhood amendment” may face some significant opposition from Americans across the political spectrum:
- Fifty-eight percent of the general public agree that at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions.
- Eighty-six percent believe that abortion should be permitted if the woman’s physical health is endangered. Nearly 8-in-10 (79%) agree that abortion should be allowed if the pregnancy was the result of rape, and three-quarters (74%) believe that abortion should be allowed if the woman’s mental health is endangered.
- Nearly twice as many Americans say that abortion should be illegal in most cases (29%) rather than in all cases (15%).
Given that 52% of Americans also believe that having an abortion is morally wrong, these numbers show that even many of the Americans who would identify personally as “pro-life” believe that under extreme circumstances, abortion should be permitted.
On the other hand, many of Mississippi’s voters are white evangelical Protestants who are far more conservative on the issue than the general public, so there’s no telling what will happen tomorrow at the polls. Recent numbers from Public Policy Polling show that 45% of the population support the amendment, while 44% are opposed.