Personhood on Trial Today | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Personhood on Trial Today


Les Riley started the Personhood petition.

Jackson Attorneys Robert McDuff and J. Cliff Johnson will stand before the full Mississippi Supreme Court today at 1:30 p.m. and explain why a ballot initiative giving rights to microscopic human eggs amounts to an illegal modification of the state constitution.

The plaintiff attorneys, who are working on behalf of two Lafayette County residents, oppose a 2-year-old effort by Personhood Mississippi to collect more than 130,000 signatures affirming a personhood-rights ballot issue. The organization successfully submitted the signatures to the secretary of state's office in February 2010, and the issue is scheduled for the November ballot.

"This lawsuit is brought to preserve Mississippi's Bill of Rights. This initiative specifically attempts to modify the Mississippi Bill of Rights by changing the word "person" to include a fertilized egg," McDuff stated.  "Like the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution, the Mississippi constitution states that 'the initiative process shall not be used ... for the proposal, modification or repeal of any portion of the bill of rights of this constitution.'"

The initiative proposes that "the term 'person' or 'persons' include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

The personhood initiative joins several other ballot issues that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann submitted to the state legislature this year after they received enough qualifying signatures. A second ballot issue limits the state's use of eminent domain for claiming privately owned property specifically for public projects like road and bridge construction. That second initiative would end the state's ability to claim property to benefit for-profit corporations.

McDuff said last year that the ballot initiative pertaining to fertilized eggs could put doctors performing certain types of fertility treatments at legal risk. Sponsors tell supporters that the initiative would end abortion in Mississippi and prevent human cloning and embryo stem-cell research; however, such a law would be counter to federal law and attorneys would most certainly challenge it.

Plaintiffs took their suit to Hinds County Circuit Court last year, but newly appointed Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Malcolm Harrison, appointed by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, punted the issue to Supreme Court by ignoring the constitutional language and concluding that Personhood Mississippi had collected enough signatures to get the ball rolling.

"Initiative Measure No. 26 has received more than the required amount of signatures to be placed on the ballot, and the Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to amend their Constitution," Harrison wrote in his decision, while adding that the plaintiffs "carry a heavy burden in attempting to restrict the citizenry's right to amend the Constitution."

Personhood Mississippi, which opposes all abortion including those after rape (it is ssponsoring the "Conceived in Rape" tour this week) praised Harrison's October 2010 decision.

Plaintiff attorneys, who called Harrison's decision "terse," disputed Harrison's "heavy burden" assessment, saying their argument is as clear as constitutional language.

"Purely legal questions are not subject to evidentiary burdens of proof. In factual disputes, a party must present various pieces of evidence to meet a particular burden. But in the context of the purely legal issue in this case, the measure is either constitutional or not," McDuff wrote. "Through Section 273(5), Mississippi citizens have provided that 'the initiative process shall not be used: ... for the proposal, modification, or repeal of any portion of the Bill of Rights of this Constitution."

Previous Comments


Who is the little unidentified African-American toddler pictured in this article? Just asking.


Why is it that "small government" advocates flip flop and push for "big brother" all the time? Their actions say to me : "Keep government small, keep government out of our Health Care! Unless, of course, its something we disagree with, then by all means outlaw it and make people who do things we don't like into criminals." "When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Sinclair Lewis“christian-exodus”-separatist-advocate


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