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Too often in South Carolina we find our state ranked near the bottom of some list of the 50 states’ social and economic indexes. The response is often “thank God for Mississippi,” in that somehow we are consoled that at least one state is below us in the rankings.
However, with the Election Day defeat of the Personhood Amendment, we need to thank Mississippi for showing the nation that in one of the most conservative states in the nation, voters are sensible enough to reject political extremism, even when it’s being served up by self-described conservatives.
The question for us in South Carolina is whether we, too, will reject such extremism or continue the current headlong rush to the ideological fringe that we have seen of late in Columbia?
First, a little background. A national group called Personhood USA led an effort to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Mississippi to declare that a fertilized egg was a person and thus entitled to full rights.
Their plan was to pass the amendment there and then move on to other target states, including South Carolina.
Mississippi was chosen by Parenthood USA as it was considered their most favorable state in the nation, and, indeed, a recent Gallup poll rated Mississippi as the most conservative, religious and anti-abortion state in the country.
Initially, most everyone assumed that it would easily pass. Just about every notable Republican elected official signed on and even the Democratic nominee for governor supported the amendment.
However, in the last few weeks prior to the election, voters began to look at the issue more closely, and when they did, things began to change. Voters became concerned that the language of the amendment was too vague, that it would make some current forms of birth control and fertility treatments illegal, and that all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, would be outlawed.
In short, people began to see this for what it was – a truly radical, extreme measure that was being pushed by rigid ideologues.
The amendment was overwhelmingly defeated, 58-42 percent.
But this will not be the end of this radical idea – Personhood USA has already announced its plans to expand and try again in other states.
And what of South Carolina? A personhood bill was first introduced in our Legislature in 1988 and support has grown ever since. In 2005, a personhood bill passed the House by a vote of 95-18, with an exception made in the case of rape. In 2010, the Senate voted on the bill for the first time and it was defeated, 24-18.
Of the 24 senators who opposed the bill, the split was even – 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans. Republican supporters outweighed Democrats, 14-4, with four senators skipping the vote.
This is a pretty slim margin on the side of reasonableness, and given the recent record of the Legislature in embracing radical ideology, it is not reassuring.
We all need to watch this issue very closely. The last thing we need is for the state to be consumed by a bitter, divisive fight over this issue when we all need to be focused on improving education and providing jobs for our people.
And in the meantime, we can only say, “thank God for Mississippi.”
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the SC New Democrats.