Barbour votes for ‘personhood’ initiative after all

JACKSON — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said yesterday he voted after all for a state ballot initiative that would declare life begins at fertilization.

The Republican said he voted by absentee ballot yesterday because he won’t be in his hometown for Tuesday’s election.

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Barbour had told reporters Wednesday he was undecided because he thinks the initiative is ambiguous and he had concerns about how it might affect in vitro fertilization and ectopic pregnancies. His comments angered some social conservatives pushing for the change.

“I voted for it. I struggled with it,” Barbour said yesterday in response to questions about his absentee voting.

“I had some concerns about it, have some concerns about it,” Barbour said. “But I think all in all, I know I believe life begins at conception. So I think the right thing to do was to vote for it.”

Barbour weighed a presidential bid in 2012 but decided against it last April.

He answered questions after appearing at a campaign rally for Phil Bryant, the Republican trying to succeed him as governor.

On Wednesday, Barbour said of the ballot measure: “It doesn’t say life begins at conception. It says life begins at fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof — something to that effect. Some very strongly pro-life people have raised questions about the ambiguity and about the actual consequences — whether there are unforeseen, unintended consequences. And I’ll have to say that I have heard those concerns and they give me some pause.”

Barbour’s statements upset Mississippi conservatives such as Dr. Shani Meck, an OB-GYN who practices in Jackson and who supports the “personhood” amendment. She said yesterday that she thought Barbour seemed confused.

“Conception is to fertilization as the Republican Party is to the GOP,” Meck said. “They are one and the same.”

The initiative is backed by a Colorado-based group, Personhood USA, which is seeking to put similar life-at-fertilization measures on ballots next year in Florida, Montana, Ohio and Oregon. Keith Mason, co-founder of Personhood USA, said the group ultimately wants to add such an amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

Before Barbour revealed his vote, Parenthood USA issued a news release yesterday attacking Barbour for accepting campaign contributions in 2007 from Pfizer Inc. and its political action committee. “Was he influenced by misinformation? Or donations from abortion pill makers?” Mason said in a statement.

Meanwhile, some voters received automated telephone calls yesterday urging them to vote against the amendment. The calls used a recording of Barbour’s comments from Wednesday, in which he expressed reservations about the ballot initiative. The calls were paid for by Mississippians for Healthy Families, a group that opposes the amendment

Barbour’s office declined to comment on the Parenthood USA criticism or the automated telephone calls.

If the Mississippi initiative passes next Tuesday, it would become part of the state constitution 30 days after the election results are certified, probably by mid-December. Supporters say that if that happens, they expect it to be challenged in court and that challenge could become an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a legal right to abortion.

The initiative is endorsed by both candidates in a governor’s race that’s also being decided next Tuesday, Bryant and Democrat Johnny DuPree.

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