Fillingame introduces bill similar to defeated personhood initiative

JACKSON — A Mississippi senator is proposing an anti-abortion constitutional amendment similar to one rejected by voters last November.

Under the plan by Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, it would be the policy of Mississippi to “protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth, to the extent permitted by the federal Constitution.”

The “personhood” amendment that was rejected by 58 percent of Mississippi voters last year would have defined life as beginning at fertilization. Opponents worried it would restrict in-vitro fertilization, endanger women with ectopic pregnancies or outlaw some types of birth control.

Fillingane told The Associated Press yesterday he doesn’t expect his amendment to even get on the ballot this fall. He said he filed it Monday as a place-holder, in case some lawmakers want to move forward with it at some point during the four-month session that ends in early May.

Thursday is the deadline for lawmakers to request the drafting of general bills or constitutional amendments to be considered this session.

“I personally think more than likely what you will see with the Legislature is there are a whole number of bills dealing with regulations of the doctors who perform abortions and admitting privileges and all those kinds of things,” Fillingane said.

His proposed amendment also says no public money could be used to pay for abortion, except to save the life of the pregnant woman.

Mississippi law already bans insurance coverage for abortions under any state-sponsored health exchange created under the 2009 federal health care overhaul. State law also prohibits public school nurses from providing abortion counseling to any student or referring any student to an abortion clinic.

Fillingane said if his amendment goes on the ballot and is approved, abortion would still be legal in Mississippi as long as Roe v. Wade has not been overturned. The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision established a right to abortion.

Atlee Breland of Brandon is spokeswoman for Parents Against Personhood, a group that formed last year to fight the ballot initiative. She was at the Capitol yesterday, asking senators to defeat Fillingane’s amendment.

The life-at-fertilization amendment last year, Initiative 26, was decided the same day voters chose the current statewide officials and legislators.

“We voted on it very clearly and unambiguously,” Breland said of the initiative. “We had the chance to consider both sides’ arguments. There were months and months of very aggressive campaigning from both sides, and the voters had a chance to think through how we wanted to vote. And we did that. I’m sorry that we’re going to have to do it again. Frankly, I’m very saddened by that. I think a lot of Mississippians are.”

Les Riley of Pontotoc, who led the signature-gathering effort to put the “personhood” amendment on the 2011 ballot, was also at the Capitol yesterday. He said he was aware of Fillingane’s proposal yesteray but hadn’t had time to study it.

“We are grateful that there are people who are still trying to press pro-life legislation, and we hope that we can support legislation that would do what we were trying to do with the personhood amendment,” Riley said.

Riley said that at some point — not necessarily this year — he plans to start another petition drive for a ballot initiative similar to the one he pushed last year. He said he wants to address people’s concerns about fertilization treatments and other issues.

Fillingane said he has friends who oppose abortion but voted against the ballot initiative because of what he called “legitimate concerns” about its impact.

“In my opinion, Mississippi is a very strong right-to-life state. I think the voters are overwhelmingly pro-life. I just think in the instance of Proposition 26, there were just so many questions that were unanswered and so many vagaries and ambiguities,” Fillingane said. “People, unless they’re certain about what they’re voting on and what they’re doing with their vote, they’re not going to vote something in. They’re going to vote against it, unless they’re for sure this is not going to negatively affect in-vitro fertilization or birth control availability, those kinds of things.”

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