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.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Romney Repeating Ken Buck's Errors on Personhood

As Mississippi Republicans back away from the controversial personhood ballot initiative that would restrict reproductive rights in the state, Project New West's polling shows GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney's position on this national issue looks increasingly out-of-touch with a majority of voters.

The Mississippi personhood initiative, which has been overwhelmingly turned down in previous election cycles by voters in Colorado, would define the term "person" in the State Constitution to include fertilized human eggs, and grant fertilized embryos the same legal rights and protections afforded to people. The initiative is being promoted by a group called Personhood USA, which has a stated goal of putting the initiative on the ballot in all 50 states.

This week, conservative Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour distanced himself from the initiative. "I'm somebody that believes life begins at conception, that's one of the reasons I'm pro-life," Barbour said Wednesday on Fox News. "But a lot of pro-life people have problems with this particular language... There's concern this is ambiguous, even in an enormously pro-life state like mine, there is some concern about this."

While the ambiguity of the initiative may be cause for concern for some conservatives in Mississippi, it doesn't seem to faze Mitt Romney, who has said he'd support a constitutional amendment defining life as beginning at conception.

The problem for Romney is that, while most Americans would like to see fewer abortions, an overwhelming majority do not think that government should have a role in deciding whether a woman should have an abortion. A recent nationwide survey conducted by PNW shows that 80% of likely voters agreed 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."

If recent history is any indication, Romney is at serious risk of alienating mainstream voters. In 2010, Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck's early support for the Personhood amendment was effectively used against him in the general election. The initiative, which had already lost by a wide margin in 2008, was trounced in 2010, with roughly 70 percent voting against the measure -- including every Colorado county -- in what was considered a strong year for conservatives.

Despite his efforts to walk back some of his more extreme statements on abortion, Buck narrowly lost to Democrat Michael Bennet. Bennet's victory was widely attributed to his campaign's ability to cast Buck as an extremist on social issues.

Organizers of the Personhood amendment are currently working to put the measure in western presidential battlegrounds like Nevada, where recent Project New West polling showed that unaffiliated voters -- a crucial bloc -- identify as "pro-choice" over "pro-life" by a 2-1 margin.

In a GOP primary contest that remains highly competitive, Governor Romney no doubt sees an advantage in tacking to the right on social issues to appease the base with of his party. However, it's clear the American people are simply not with him on this issue.