Friday, November 11, 2011

Lessons from Mississippi

Advocates for a common-sense approach to reproductive health policy are rightfully taking pride in the defeat of the Personhood amendment in Mississippi this week. As we celebrate the defeat of this extremist legislation, it's important to remember the lessons of Mississippi going forward: that Personhood lost--in large part--due to highly effective messaging that framed the measure as what it actually was --government overreach trampling on what should be personal decisions.

Mississippi Initiative 26, known as the Personhood initiative, would have defined the term "person" in the State Constitution to include fertilized human eggs, likely banning many common forms of birth control. In an April Project New West poll conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, 55% of Mississippians supported the initiative, while just 33% opposed it.

In the run-up to election day, however, opposition to Personhood began to focus more on the effects of the initiative, framing the measure in terms that highlighted how it would take choice on reproductive rights out of individuals' hands, and put it into the hands of the government.

"When you stop to think about it, 26 is government going way too far," a Mississippi grandmother said in a radio ad paid for by the opposition group Mississippians for Healthy Families.

"26 puts government between a woman and her doctor," says a nurse in a TV ad sponsored by the same group.

“Mississippi voters rejected the so-called ‘personhood’ amendment because they understood it is government gone too far, and would have allowed government to have control over personal decisions that should be left up to a woman, her family, her doctor and her faith," Planned Parenthood explained in a release following the defeat of the initiative.

The common theme here is clear: voters--even in a red state like Mississippi--oppose anti-reproductive rights measures when they view it through a lens of government intrusion.

This lesson has huge national implications as the 2012 cycle begins in earnest. Project New West recently completed a nationwide survey on abortion attitudes--also conducted by Benenson Strategy Group--which showed fully 80% of voters nationwide agree with the statement that "government should not be getting involved in the decision to end a pregnancy, it's better left to a woman, her family and her faith."

What happened in Mississippi this week is truly a victory Mississippians who believe individuals, and not the government, should make decisions about reproductive health. If we remember how this battle was won, it could also lead to many more victories in 2012 and beyond.