By Verna Gates
JACKSON, Miss., Nov 8 (Reuters) - Mississippi voters on Tuesday rejected an amendment to the state constitution aimed at outlawing abortion, a setback for abortion opponents seeking to overturn the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States.
With 85 percent of the precincts reporting, 58 percent of voters had rejected the measure and 42 percent had voted for it, according to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, the state capital.
Had the so-called "personhood amendment" passed, Mississippi would have been the first U.S. state to define a fertilized egg as a legal person. The measure would have banned abortion without exceptions for rape or incest victims. It also would have outlawed some types of birth control and infertility methods resulting in the loss of embryos.
In a year that has seen a number of states approve abortion restrictions, the Mississippi defeat is a blow to those pushing to get the personhood issue on more state ballots next year.
Similar measures failed in Colorado in 2008 and 2010.
Proponents of the measure, who ultimately seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, said they were disappointed but would not give up.
"I am ready to go again," Personhood USA founder Keith Mason said in Jackson. "We have been a voice for the voiceless, and I'm proud of Mississippi."
Critics of the measure, who argued it could have criminalized routine medical care and endangered women's lives, applauded voters for derailing it.
"I am proud of the people in Mississippi for making a thoughtful decision on this issue," said Shelley Abrams, executive director of the state's only abortion clinic.
Election officials said a governor's election and a slate of ballot initiatives in Mississippi helped drive a robust voter turnout on Tuesday, but the passion on both sides of the personhood issue was evident throughout the state.
For some voters, the decision hinged solely on their beliefs about abortion, while others grappled with the broader effects of the amendment. There was a vigorous debate, for example, over the extent to which birth control and in-vitro fertilization options would have been limited.
"I work in healthcare and have had my own personal challenges with reproductive issues. Those issues should be between a husband and wife," said Felicia Denson, 35, after voting against the measure at a church in a Jackson suburb.
"I am pro-life and against abortion, but this law was just too vague," she added.
Farrah Newman, an ophthalmologist seven months pregnant with her third child, said she voted in favor of the amendment.
"I am a mother and a female and a physician and a Christian," she said. "I have researched this and found nothing strong enough to negate my conviction that someone is a person at conception."
(Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Greg McCune, Peter Bohan and Eric Walsh)