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Moves to grant embryos 'personhood' advance in Oklahoma but are postponed in Virginia

27 February 2012

By Rosie Beauchamp

Appeared in BioNews 646

The Republican controlled state Senate of Oklahoma passed the 'Personhood Act' by 34 votes to eight on 15 February. The Act moves to extend the definition of 'person' under State law to include a fetus from the point of conception. The measure will now progress to the State House where it is again expected to pass, with pro-life Republicans outnumbering Democrats by more than two to one, according to Reuters.

Oklahoma's Republican Governor Mary Fallin did not publish a formal response to the latest developments, but Republican Senate Pro Tempore President Brian Bingman said: 'Oklahoma is a conservative pro-life state-we are proud to stand up for what we know is right'.

Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said: 'It's a sad day for people in Oklahoma when the Legislature puts them in harm's way.'

The personhood debate saw further developments on 23 February, as the Virginia State Senate voted to send the proposals back to committee stage, which will result in the bill being postponed in Virginia for the remainder of 2012. The measure had already been approved in the House and signed off by a Senate committee, however the upper chamber voted 24-14 in favour of preventing the bill coming up for an up-or-down vote.

Opponents to the embryo-personhood movement have expressed concerns that the measures do not grant exceptions in the case of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. Further concerns have been raised regarding access to contraception, such as the morning after pill, and the continuation of IVF procedures.

The hold up of the personhood measures in Virginia comes two days after lawmakers put off amendments to abortion-related legislation that would have required some women to undergo an invasive, intravaginal ultrasound before having an abortion. The procedure, which would involve a 30 cm ultrasound probe being inserted into the womb, was described by some critics as State-sanctioned rape.

Following a protest in State capital Richmond, the issue became the butt of jokes on American shows 'Saturday Night Live' and 'The Daily Show With Jon Stewart'. Delegates held off a third reading, leaving open the possibility that the abortion amendments may yet be made or dropped altogether.

A series of personhood amendments to State constitutions have failed in recent months, and after one such case in conservative Mississippi, legislators took up a similar anti-abortion strategy. In the run up to the November Presidential election abortion is a hot issue and seven US states have already mandated pre-abortion ultrasounds to inform women of the gestational development of the fetus.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
CBS News | 16 February 2012
 
Reuters | 16 February 2012
 
Slate | 23 February 2012
 
SF Gate (Associated Press) | 24 February 2012
 
AFP | 22 February 2012
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

03 September 2012 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
A proposal to extend the definition of human life to 'all human beings at any stage of development' has failed to gain enough support to be put to a public vote in Colorado, USA...
08 May 2012 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has declared void a ballot initiative that would have asked voters to expand the definition of a person in the state constitution to include human embryos and fetuses....
02 April 2012 - by Rosie Beauchamp 
Civil liberty groups in the USA have filed a legal challenge to the 'personhood' ballot initiative in Oklahoma, as a separate measure known as the Personhood Act progresses through the State legislature...

19 December 2011 - by Professor John Galloway 
We inherit our biological identity at conception but our humanity in a process beginning at birth. Nothing reminds us of this more than the rites and rituals surrounding birth and the way our rights change as we stop being a part of our mother and become a 'person'...
21 November 2011 - by Dr Morven Shearer 
On 8 November the Mississippi electorate voted against an amendment to the Bill of Rights in their state Constitution which would have redefined life as beginning at the moment of fertilisation – the so-called 'personhood amendment' (Proposition 26)...
14 November 2011 - by Rachel Lloyd 
Voters in the US state of Mississippi have voted against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined life as beginning at fertilisation. The proposed amendment would have afforded embryos and fetuses – whether conceived naturally or artificially - similar legal protection as that covering all US citizens but was rejected by over 55 per cent of voters on 8 November...
11 April 2011 - by Nishat Hyder 
The American states of Minnesota and Oklahoma are both in the process of passing legislation that will criminalise certain embryonic stem (ES) cell research procedures....
28 February 2011 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Legislation banning embryonic stem cell research in Oklahoma, United States, was approved by the state's House Committee last week. The House of Representatives' Public Health Committee narrowly passed the bill by six votes to five and it is now scheduled to go before the full House of Representatives....

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