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.
The Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) has filed a lawsuit at the Oklahoma Supreme Court to prevent a public vote on whether the constitution should be amended to define a fertilised egg as a 'person'.
The CRR, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and various local partners claim that the amendment would be unconstitutional as it infringes a woman's right to make decisions about abortion under the federal Constitution.
The pro-life ballot initiative was filed on 1 March by a group called Personhood Oklahoma, a state division of Personhood USA, which has until the end of May to collect the 155,000 signatures required to place the initiative on the ballot box in November.
The petition aims to amend Oklahoma's state constitution to define a person as 'any human being from the beginning of biological development'. The state attorney clarified this to mean the point of fertilisation, which he defined as the 'fusion of a female egg with a human male sperm to form a new cell'.
Opponents have raised concerns that the amendment could lead to a banning of abortion under all circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest or when a woman's life or health is at risk, as well as a ban on most forms of hormonal birth control such as IUDs (intrauterine devices) on the grounds that such procedures prevent implantation.
They also raised concerns that the amendment has the potential to impact a wide range of medical care and research, including treatment of ectopic pregnancy, IVF, stem cell research, and medical treatment for pregnant women.
Personhood USA president Keith Manson said: 'The opponents of personhood will stop at nothing to deny the people of Oklahoma their First Amendment right to petition the government on behalf of the preborn and ultimately recognise the most basic and fundamental human rights of the smallest and most defenceless people group'.
Meanwhile, the Personhood Act, a legislative measure to extend the definition of 'person' under State law to include a fetus from the point of conception, has passed the House Public Health Committee by seven votes to four. It will now proceed to a vote by the full House, having already been passed by the Senate in February.
A series of personhood amendments to state constitutions have failed in recent months, as reported in BioNews 646. However, last Thursday, the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed a suit filed by Healthy Families Ohio challenging Personhood Ohio's petition effort. Healthy Families Ohio argued that the ballot title, describing the effects of the amendment, was not a 'fair and truthful' description of the measure.
The lawsuit in Oklahoma was filed one day after a judge struck down a state law requiring women seeking abortions to be shown an ultrasound image and to listen to a detailed description of the fetus before the procedure.