JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi voters shot down a referendum Tuesday that would have effectively banned abortions in the state, rejecting an initiative that said life begins at conception.
The so-called personhood initiative was rejected by more than 55 percent of voters. If it had passed, it was virtually assured of drawing legal challenges because it conflicts with the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a legal right to abortion. Supporters of the initiative wanted to provoke a lawsuit to challenge the landmark ruling.
The measure divided the medical and religious communities in this Bible Belt state and caused some of the most ardent abortion opponents, including Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, to waver with their support.
Opponents said the measure could make birth control, such as the morning-after pill or the intrauterine device, illegal. It could also deter physicians from performing in vitro fertilization because they would fear criminal charges if an embryo doesn't survive.
Supporters were trying to impose their religious beliefs on others by forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies, including those caused by rape or incest, opponents said.
Amy Brunson voted against the measure, in part because she has been raped. She also has friends and family that had children through in vitro fertilization and she was worried this would end that process.
"The lines are so unclear on what may or may not happen. I think there are circumstances beyond everybody's control that can't be regulated through an amendment," said Brunson, a 36-year-old dog trainer and theater production assistant from Jackson.
Hubert Hoover, a cabinet maker and construction worker, voted for the amendment.
"I figure you can't be half for something, so if you're against abortion you should be for this. You've either got to be wholly for something or wholly against it," said Hoover, 71, who lives in a Jackson suburb.
Mississippi already has tough abortion regulations and only one clinic where the procedures are performed, making it a fitting venue for a national movement to get abortion bans into state constitutions.
Kentucky's Democratic governor was re-elected Tuesday, and voters picked a new governor in Mississippi - decisions that could foreshadow the public's political mood just two months ahead of the first presidential primary and nearly four years into the worst economic slowdown since the Depression.
In Ohio, voters restored the bargaining rights of public employees, and in Mississippi they considered whether life should be defined as beginning at conception. Supporters of the Mississippi measure hope to use it to mount a legal attack on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the right to abortion.
In both governors' races, the offices had been expected to stay in the hands of incumbent parties, suggesting voters were not ready to abandon their loyalties, despite the nation's economic woes.
Still, the contests were being closely watched for any hints going into 2012, when 10 states will elect governors.
In Ohio, voters overwhelmingly repealed a new law that severely limited the bargaining rights of more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees. With 35 percent of precincts reporting, the repeal effort had 62 percent of the vote, compared with 38 percent who voted to keep the law.
The decision was a stiff blow to Gov. John Kasich and cast doubt on other Republican governors who have sought union-limiting measures as a way to curb spending.
The disputed law permitted workers to negotiate wages but not pensions or health care benefits, and it banned public-worker strikes, scraps binding arbitration and eliminates annual raises for teachers.
The outcome will no doubt be watched by presidential candidates as a gauge of the Ohio electorate, which is seen as a bellwether. No Republican has won the White House without Ohio, and only two Democrats have done so in more than a century.
Also in Ohio, voters approved a proposal to prohibit people from being required to buy health insurance as part of the national health care overhaul. The vote was mostly symbolic, but Republicans planned to use it in a legal challenge.
The governors' races were of keen interest to both parties, since governors can marshal get-out-the-vote efforts crucial to any White House candidate. The first presidential primary is Jan. 10 in New Hampshire.
In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear was easily re-elected despite high unemployment, budget shortfalls and an onslaught of third-party attack ads. He became the second Democrat to win a governor's race this year, after West Virginia's Early Ray Tomblin.
In Mississippi, voters were picking a new governor to succeed Haley Barbour, who could not run again because of term limits. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant appeared poised to keep the governor's mansion in GOP hands. He faced Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, the first black major-party nominee for governor in Mississippi.
The Mississippi measure that would define life as beginning at conception was given a decent chance of approval. Passage would be the first victory in the country for the so-called personhood movement, which aims to make abortion all but illegal. Similar attempts have failed in Colorado and are under way elsewhere.
In Arizona, state Sen. Russell Pearce, architect of the tough immigration law that put the state at the forefront of the national debate, faced a recall attempt led by a fellow Republican. But Pearce held a 3-to-1 fundraising advantage.
Hundreds of cities held mayoral races, including some of the nation's largest. In San Francisco, interim Mayor Ed Lee could become the city's first elected Asian-American leader. A former city administrator, he was named to the interim job in January, when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom became lieutenant governor.
In Philadelphia, Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter trounced a little-known Republican challenger named Karen Brown, a former math teacher and Democrat who switched parties to challenge the incumbent.
Comic-turned-politician Robert Farmer lost his bid to become Kentucky's agriculture commissioner. Farmer told hillbilly jokes that upset some people, and he had no farming experience. In Ohio, another comedian, Drew Hastings, a fixture on "Comedy Central," became mayor of tiny Hillsboro.