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Oklahoma Supreme Court strikes down embryo 'personhood' initiative

8 May 2012
Appeared in BioNews 655

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.

The unanimous ruling that the measure was 'clearly unconstitutional' has dealt a further set-back to pro-life campaign groups in the state, after the Oklahoma House of Representatives refused to vote on a separate legislative measure to grant embryos legal personhood.

Opponents said the ballot initiative would not only ban all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest, but could also prohibit certain forms of contraception including the morning after pill and the intra-uterine device. It could have also had an impact on the provision of IVF in the state, as all procedures involving the destruction of embryos, including embryonic stem cell research, would have been affected.

Pro-life campaign group Personhood Oklahoma initiated the petition to amend the state's constitution to define a person as 'any human being from the beginning of biological development'. The Supreme Court ruling followed a claim filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) arguing the initiative was unconstitutional.

'This amendment would have run roughshod over the fundamental, constitutionally protected reproductive rights of all Oklahoma women', said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the CRR. She called the ruling 'a powerful blow against the repugnant tactics of those who seek to vote down the rights of others'.

This latest defeat follows a ruling in Nebraska last December that the wording of a 'personhood' petition was too vague to be put to the public, while in both Mississippi and Colorado a similar amendment was voted down in public ballots last year.

Some commentators have pointed to the unanimous nature of the Oklahoma ruling, suggesting that it may be a 'bellwether' for future cases. However, the director of Personhood Oklahoma, Dan Skerbitz, said: 'The people of Oklahoma will not be silenced'. The group says it will now attempt to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court, claiming that the ruling 'epitomises judicial overreaching'.

Earlier in April the Oklahoma House of Representatives refused to bring a legislative bill called the Personhood Act to the vote before the legislature adjourned, preventing it from passing into law. The Personhood Act had appeared to be gathering momentum in Oklahoma, passing in the state Senate by 34 votes to eight. However, the Republican Caucus decided not to put the bill to a vote.

Speaking to CapitolBeatOK, Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice (OCRJ), said: 'The OCRJ is gratified that [...] the Personhood bill [...] is dead in the Legislature. This extreme bill had the potential to harm Oklahoma families by threatening contraception, assisted reproductive technologies and other necessary medical services'.

A similar measure that extends murder and assault laws to cover early stages of pregnancy has passed the legislative stages in Tennessee, however.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Drug Addiction, 'Personhood' and the War on Women
Time NewsFeed |  26 April 2012
Oklahoma court rejects ballot initiative on 'personhood'
Reuters |  30 April 2012
Oklahoma House Republican Leadership Uses Parliamentary Tricks to Deny Personhood Act Vote
Personhood USA |  27 April 2012
Oklahoma's top court rejects 'personhood' for embryos
USA Today |  30 April 2012
Oklahoma Supreme Court rejects embryo 'personhood' measure
Los Angeles Times |  30 April 2012
Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules 'Personhood' Initiative 'Clearly Unconstitutional'
Center for Reproductive Rights |  30 April 2012
Personhood USA to Appeal Oklahoma Supreme Court Decision to US Supreme Court
Personhood USA |  1 May 2012
Petition No. 395
Oklahoma Secretary of State |  28 November 2020
Republican Caucus pulls personhood bill from Oklahoma House calendar
Capitol Beat OK |  19 April 2012
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