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.