Barbour: Robocalls on initiative ’misleading’

Published 1:59 am Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Friday that a group was trying to mislead voters with automated phone calls using his recorded remarks as he expressed concerns about a life-at-fertilization ballot initiative.

Mississippians for Healthy Families, a group largely funded by Planned Parenthood, says it did not alter a recording of the Republican governor.

On the call, an anonymous person asks the listener to hold for a message from Barbour. Then comes a recording of the two-term governor expressing his concern that the state constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot is ambiguous.

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Barbour voiced those concerns in interviews Wednesday, quickly drawing criticism from a conservative group. On Thursday evening, Barbour said he’d voted for the initiative by absentee ballot because, ultimately, be believes life begins at conception.

The automated calls started Thursday evening — about the time Barbour told reporters he had voted for the “personhood” amendment earlier in the day.

“A pro-abortion group has called people’s homes and deceived voters into thinking I’m opposed to Initiative 26, the Personhood Amendment,” Barbour said Friday. “As I’ve previously stated, I voted for the Personhood Amendment. These misleading calls were made without my knowledge, without my permission and against my wishes. I have demanded this deception be stopped, and those responsible have assured me that no more calls will be made.”

Stan Flint, a Jackson political consultant working for Mississippians for Healthy Families, told The Associated Press that the automated calls were intended to go out only one night. He said they were not stopped because of Barbour’s demand, but added, “We would certainly take any feelings the governor had into consideration.”

“We appreciate the fact that he was expressing the same torn feelings that many other people in Mississippi feel about it,” Flint said. “This whole subject has made it clear that people who are staunchly conservative and pro-life can vote against this and have deep concerns about it. It is a dangerous and extreme overreach.”

Flint said Barbour’s comments in the automated calls were from a broadcast interview, but he didn’t know which one.

Speaking to print and broadcast reporters Wednesday in Jackson, Barbour called the initiative “ambiguous.”

“It doesn’t say life begins at conception. It says life begins at fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof — something to that effect,” Barbour said Wednesday. “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.”

Similar concerns have been raised by physicians’ groups, including one that represents Mississippi obstetricians and gynecologists.

The initiative has divided the state’s medical and religious communities. The initiative is backed by a Colorado-based group, Personhood USA, which is seeking to put similar life-at-fertilization measures on ballots in 2012 — 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.