PERRY/Personhood tries again
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 1:00 AM
Personhood Mississippi has announced another attempt to amend the Mississippi Constitution by initiative and referendum to protect "both babies and women from the devastation of abortion," said Anne Reed, the petition sponsor. "The right to life begins at conception. All human beings, at every stage of development, are unique, created in God's image and shall have equal rights as persons under the law," said Reed in a statement released by the organization Personhood Mississippi.
The first attempt at defining personhood at conception in 2011 failed on the statewide Mississippi ballot gaining only 42.4 percent of the vote in an election that saw passage of two other initiatives (Voter-ID and limiting eminent domain) and the election of 7 of 8 Republican statewide elected officials.
Reed, a volunteer in the prior effort, said "This time we intend to fight back against the lies of our wealthy pro-abortion opponents. We will be proactive in educating Mississippi voters as to the full intent and resulting effects of this amendment."
The sponsor of the previous attempt, Les Riley, said voters were confused in 2011.
Riley is correct; many voters were confused. But I have doubts that confusion can be cleared up in time for the next attempt and whether, once not confused, voters will be persuaded to support the measure.
Many campaigns conduct an election post mortem to see what worked and why they won, or what failed and why they lost. For ambitious candidates eyeing reelection or higher office, or contemplating another run, these can be expensive and intensive endeavors involving polling, focus groups and targeted voter research.
After the defeat of Barry Goldwater for President in 1964, his movement conservatives did some soul searching. Goldwater's youngest delegate, Morton C. Blackwell, founded the Leadership Institute to train conservatives in political operations. The lesson he learned in defeat was being right, being philosophically correct, is not sufficient to win. The winner of a political contest is determined by the number and the effectiveness (by employing political technology and strategy) of the activists on each side.
I wonder whether the Personhood advocates have learned how to win. They believe they're right, but that isn't enough. This isn't a rematch with a candidate of whom voters have grown tired through scandal or ineffectiveness. This is a referendum on a value that many see in shades of gray.
Some pro-life advocates are firm and secure in their position that human life begins at conception and is deserving of all protections of any human life.
But some others who consider themselves pro-life believe viability is a component to endowing protection and decisions involving in vitro fertilization complicate their votes. Some people want an opportunity to use the process to have children; they do not want the additionally created embryos adopted by someone else. A campaign is going to be hard pressed to convince a mother or a father who used some type of fertilization treatment that the technique used to create their daughter or son should be further complicated medically or legally, or that their child may have a biological sibling adopted by someone else.
There are good philosophical and theological arguments to be made and valid points on each side. But it is hard to explore eternal truths in a thirty second television commercial or a direct mail piece. It will be difficult to clear up the "confusion" advocates believe cost them the last election. Tweaking the initiative might not be enough.
A promise to bring term limits to a vote in Congress was a cornerstone of the popular 1994 Contract with America that Republicans partnered with a "throw the bums out" electoral mood to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in forty years. The sentiment was shared in Mississippi. Term limits polled very well. In 1995, the first initiative and referendum issue made it to the ballot: eight year term limits on most elected officials in the state. It failed. In 1999, term limit proponents tried again. They had learned from their previous mistake and this time targeted only the legislature. But the dye was cast and it was defeated again.
Another defeat of the personhood amendment could diminish the pro-life movement in Mississippi, something warned of by conservative grande dame Phyllis Schlafly and her pro-life organization The Eagle Forum which opposes the personhood movement.
The Eagle Forum calls personhood movement "hurtful gimmicks" that "would not prevent a single abortion...enable more mischief by judges...misleads pro-lifers with false hope...enriches pro-abortion groups with a fundraising issue" and weakens the pro-life movement's political strength to make real changes to protect the unborn.
Personhood Mississippi faces a challenge against an emboldened opponent, but their advocates believe they are right. Unfortunately for them, that alone is insufficient to win. They need to know - beyond voter confusion - why they lost and how to win.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.