A majority of voters in Mississippi, the state whose leaders successfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in June, disagree with the ruling and support some form of legal abortion, a new survey shows.
Among the Mississippi residents polled, 51% said they disagree with the June 24 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which allowed the state to enforce a near-total ban on abortion and shut down its only abortion clinic, while 42% agreed with the outcome and 8% said they were unsure. Among Mississippi men, 48% supported the ruling with 44% opposed, while Mississippi women rejected it 56% to 37%.
The ACLU of Mississippi hired Blueprint Polling, a polling firm affiliated with Chism Strategies in Jackson, to conduct the poll. The pollster surveyed 872 likely Mississippi voters between June 28 and July 6.
In a statement on the day the Jackson Women’s Health Organization closed its doors for good, Mississippi Attorney General celebrated the Dobbs decision, casting it as a win for state’s rights and the democratic will.
“In Dobbs, we asked the Supreme Court to return abortion policymaking to the people,” Fitch, who led the State’s Dobbs lawsuit, said on July 7. “Today, in Mississippi, for the first time in many years, the will of the people as expressed through their elected legislators, is no longer held up in a court and will go into effect.”
‘Voters Are Not Being Represented’
The Dobbs decision not only upheld Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, but it also allowed the state’s 2007 trigger law to take effect on July 7, banning all abortions at any stage except “in cases where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life” or in cases of rape only if the victim reported the assault to law enforcement.
“Mississippians no longer have access to abortion care, forcing people to carry a pregnancy against their will or travel hundreds of miles to access the essential care they need,” Vara Lyons, policy counsel at ACLU of Mississippi, said in a statement on July 14.
Among the Mississippi voters surveyed, a 46% plurality said they believe “Mississippi women should have the choice to have an abortion up to 16 weeks of pregnancy,” consistent with the state’s only abortion clinic’s practices before the Dobbs decision closed it, while 43% disagreed.
When asked to state the view “closest to their opinion,” 48% agreed that “the state has the right to some restrictions on abortion,” with 31% saying “abortion should be legal under any circumstances” and 18% saying it “should be illegal in all cases.”
Before the current U.S. Supreme Court overruled it last month, Roe v. Wade protected the constitutional right to abortion on the basis that people have a “right to privacy” and that it protects the right to abortion—a theory the Mississippi Supreme Court also endorsed in 1998.
In the survey, 84% of likely Mississippi voters said they agree that “Mississippians have a general right to privacy in making decisions related to their bodies.” Among that group, 65% said they do not believe that “the state Legislature has the power to intervene and force a woman to stay pregnant.”
“It’s clear that many of our voters are not being represented the way they want to be represented. Our zip code should not reflect our access to abortion,” Lyons said in the July 14 statement.
Among respondents, 47% identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning voters; 33% said they were Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters; and 20% said they identified with neither party.
‘This Is No Longer A Game’
When informed that the abortion pill is a “‘safe and effective way’ to end unwanted early pregnancy” and that it “can be consumed within 11 weeks of the pregnancy,” 48% of Mississippians said they support allowing doctors to prescribe the abortion pill “through telehealth services”; 46% opposed allowing telehealth abortion pill prescriptions, and 6% said they were unsure.
In the months and years leading up to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights organizers and activists have focused on educating people about how they can safely self-manage their own abortions with pills. Even with the state’s only clinic shut down and telehealth abortion care unavailable, people could still potentially obtain pills by ordering them online, advocates have argued. State Republican leaders have expressed an interest in passing laws to try to prevent people from obtaining abortion pills by mail.
In the survey, 47% of Mississippians said they “believe women should be able to access online pharmacies to order the FDA approved ‘abortion pill’” while 49% oppose the idea. When asked about proposals to prevent pregnant people from accessing abortion pills by ordering them online, though, residents of the Magnolia State were strongly opposed.
“Mississippi’s legislative leaders have proposed bills that require doctors and health care providers to issue a report on any women with symptoms that could have been the result of an abortion, including women that have had a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy,” the pollster explained to respondents, referring to a failed bill that Speaker Gunn introduced during the 2022 legislative session.
“The new law would require doctors to give data on the woman’s menstrual cycle and whether the woman has visited websites or received abortion pills by mail. The new law would allow law enforcement officers to access these reports with a court order. Would you favor or oppose such a law?” the pollster continued.
In response, 79% of voters said they opposed such a law, while only 13% supported it. Opposition was even greater when the pollster asked voters about “laws that allow state officials or police to monitor or review a woman’s internet history to learn if she has used an online pharmacy to order the ‘abortion pill.’” An 86% majority said they opposed the idea, while about 10% favored it.
More specifically, an 83%-to-6% majority of likely voters said they disagree with the idea that women should “be criminally investigated or prosecuted for possibly having an abortion.” Under Mississippi’s current law, anyone providing an abortion can face one to 10 years in prison.
“It is evident that Mississippi voters do not want the Legislature to further involve itself in regulating women’s bodies,” ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Jarvis Dortch said in the July 14 statement. “Until now, the fight about outlawing abortion was a messaging or political game. Now, the Supreme Court has made this a real issue. We expect Mississippi legislators, mostly men, to take up bills that allow police to intrude greatly into the personal lives and health of women. This is no longer a game.”
Majority Still Oppose ‘Personhood’
In 2011, Mississippi voters rejected a ballot initiative called The Personhood Amendment by a 58%-to-42% margin. If adopted, it would have amended Mississippi’s Constitution to define the word “person” to “include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof,” theoretically banning all abortions by giving fertilized eggs and fetuses constitutional protections.
Opponents warned that it included no exceptions, including to save the life of a woman or pregnant person, and that it would ban in-vitro fertilization and popular forms of birth control like IUDs and Plan B.
“Mississippians spoke and voted,” Mississippi In Action Executive Director Valencia Robinson told the Mississippi Free Press last year ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing in the Dobbs case. “People feel their rights and voices are not being heard. If we voted for this, why are we constantly talking about it again? So they feel like their voices are not being heard. Why should I continue to vote when they feel like government is going to continue doing what they want anyway?”
A majority of Mississippi voters continue to oppose the “passing similar laws that would define a fertilized egg as a person,” the ACLU survey found, with 54% saying they would not support such a law compared to 37% who support it; another 9% said they were unsure. A 71% majority said they do not consider IUDs or Plan B to be “methods of abortion” while 11% said they were “unsure.”
House Speaker Gunn has said he would not support legislation banning birth control despite the fact that he endorsed the Personhood Amendment in 2011. The speaker has taken a hardline on abortion overall, though, telling reporters on June 24 that he believes a 12-year-old victim of rape or incest should be forced to give birth to her father’s or uncle’s child.
Several Mississippi Republican members of Congress currently sponsor federal legislation that would codify personhood nationally, such as the Life At Conception Act. Critics say a bill Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker recently co-sponsored, the Unborn Child Support Act, would also “sneak” elements of personhood into federal law.
76% Favor Medicaid Expansion
During his time leading the Mississippi Senate as lieutenant governor from 2012 to 2020 and as governor since, Tate Reeves has repeatedly vowed to make Mississippi “the safest state for an unborn child.” But Mississippi boasts the nation’s highest infant death rate, highest fetal death rate, lowest overall life expectancy rate and highest COVID-19 death rate. From 2013 to 2016, Mississippi’s pregnancy-related maternal mortality rate was 1.9 times higher than the U.S. as a whole, with Black women hurt the most.
In the survey, just 16% of voters said they believed “the Mississippi Legislature (has) made infant mortality and maternal mortality a priority”; 64% disagreed, and 20% said they were unsure. But 78% of voters said lawmakers should “make infant mortality and maternal mortality a priority,” while 15% said they should not.
In Mississippi, postpartum Medicaid coverage ends just 60 days after a person gives birth, the shortest period provided in the country. During the 2022 legislative session this spring, the Mississippi Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that would extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months. Mississippi Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, led the effort.
“We’ve done an excellent job of protecting the baby in the womb, but once it’s out of the womb it’s like, ‘Whoop! You’re on your own,’” Blackwell said on the Mississippi Senate floor earlier this year.
The Mississippi House killed the postpartum extension, though, with Speaker Philip Gunn conflating it with “Medicaid expansion,” a policy that would expand the program to cover working Mississippians who make too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough for subsidies to help them afford a health insurance plan. Gunn said earlier this year that he opposes Medicaid expansion because “we need to look for ways to keep people off (Medicaid), not put them on.”
Gunn is a past chairman and a current board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization that writes model legislation and gives it to Republican lawmakers to pass in statehouses across the country.
The ACLU survey found that Mississippians overwhelmingly disagree with Gunn on health-care issues, with 76% of likely Mississippi voters supporting extending postpartum Medicaid coverage and 20% opposed.
When it comes to general Medicaid expansion, which could help as many as 300,000 residents obtain health-care coverage, 76% of likely voters also told the pollsters they support doing so, while 18% oppose it. Like Gunn, Gov. Reeves has long opposed expanding Medicaid, which he derisively refers to as “Obamacare expansion.”
A June 2021 survey conducted on behalf of Millsaps College by Chism Strategies, a sister polling firm to Blueprint Polling, found that a smaller 63% majority of Mississippians supported Medicaid expansion at that time.
‘Laws To Reflect Our Compassion’
In an interview last week, Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund co-founder Laurie Bertram Roberts said she was frustrated that Mississippi’s leaders did not move forward on policies like Medicaid expansion to help women and families, but focus instead on policies like mandating child support starting at conception.
“This is the only solution Republicans ever have for low-income people. It’s get married, it’s get your poor baby daddy to pay for stuff,” she said. “It’s never anything to actually work on poverty. It’s never raise the minimum wage, it’s never paid leave, it’s never, ‘Let’s expand Medicaid.’ it’s never any of these actual structural things that we could do.”
Fitch, the Republican Mississippi attorney general who became the first woman to hold the role in 2020 and immediately set her sights on overturning Roe v. Wade, said in a statement on July 7 that she wants the State to work “to strengthen the safety net that women need not only for healthy pregnancies, but also as they build families where both they and their children thrive.”
“We need our laws to reflect our compassion for these women and their children. It is time for an open and frank dialogue about issues like: the affordability and accessibility of child care, child support enforcement that requires fathers be equally responsible for their children, workplace policies like maternity and paternity leave, streamlining adoption, and improving foster care,” she said. “It is time not just to talk about these issues, but to take action on them.”
Among respondents to the ACLU’s survey this month, 88% said they were “definitely voting” in the November 2020 federal midterm elections, while 12% said they were “probably voting.” State leaders like Gunn and Reeves, along with all seats in the Legislature, will not be on the ballot until the 2023 state election.
The ACLU-Blueprint Polling survey had a margin of error of +/- 3.3%, with results weighed “to reflect the age, race, and gender of the likely general election turnout.”