Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour offered his support Friday for an amendment to the state constitution that would define life as beginning at the moment of conception, saying he cast his absentee ballot for the measure despite struggling with its implications.
"I have some concerns about it," he said in a statement issued Friday, a day after casting his ballot. "But I think all in all, I believe life begins at conception, so I think the right thing to do was to vote for it."
On Wednesday, Barbour, a Republican, said that he was still undecided and that the measure was "too ambiguous."
Initiative 26 would define personhood as "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."
Though the text of the amendment is simple, the implications if it passes couldn't be more complex. If approved by Mississippi voters on Tuesday, it would make it impossible to get an abortion and hamper the ability to get some forms of birth control.
Of course he grudgingly supports ignoring Roe v. Wade and decades of judicial precedent, not to mention removing the right for women to determine their own bodies. The only problem he has with the measure is that it's not law already. Part of the problem is that Initiative 26 takes the oxygen out of the room for discussing Initiative 27, which would immediately disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters in the state.
Mississippi lawmakers argued about voter ID for more than 15 years before Republican Sen. Joey Fillingane of Sumrall started the petition drive that put Initiative 27 on the ballot. Supporters say requiring ID would protect the integrity of elections. Opponents say there's been little proof that people are trying to vote under others' names, and that requiring ID be a way to intimidate older black voters who were once subject to Jim Crow laws.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says 30 states require all voters to show ID at the polls, many of them in the Deep South. Fourteen of the 30 require photo ID.
Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said that in poor, rural areas, many people might lack any form of government-issued photo ID. She also worries a voter ID law would be applied unevenly, and perhaps unfairly, by poll workers who might not be well trained.
"Voter ID is one of those unnecessary barriers to the voting booth," Lambright said. "We believe it's going to represent a strong deterrent for communities of color, for the elderly and for poor folks to go to the ballot box."
Don't get me wrong, Initiative 26 is awful. But it's a smokescreen to get Initiative 27 passed with a minimum of fanfare, and yet another red state will be able to throw up economic and social barriers to voting. That's just as big an issue in the Magnolia State and across the US.