Advocacy group appeals Oklahoma 'personhood' case to Supreme Court

[JURIST] An anti-abortion group appealed to the US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday in an attempt to reinstate an Oklahoma ballot initiative to establish legal rights for embryos. Personhood USA [advocacy website] had originally tried to gather enough petition signatures to put the "personhood" issue on Oklahoma's November election ballot, but the effort was enjoined through an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy websites] lawsuit [complaint, PDF] filed on behalf of Oklahoma doctors and residents. The lawsuit claimed that the amendment would violate the Fourteenth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] and Supreme Court precendent. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma [official website] ruled [opinion] that granting "personhood" rights to human embryos is unconstitutional, thus derailing the proposed ballot initiative [text, PDF] to amend the state's constitution by defining a fertilized egg as a person. Finding the initiative "void on its face" Oklahoma's highest court unanimously declared [JURIST report] that it must follow the US Supreme Court holding in Planned Parenthood v. Casey [Cornell LII backgrounder], which affirmed the principle that states are prohibited from disallowing abortion prior to viability. Opponents of the ballot initiative claim that such an amendment would end abortion in the state, outlaw forms of birth control and threaten the practice of in-vitro fertilization.

The issues regarding personhood initiatives and their possible ramifications [JURIST comments] have long been controversial. The initiative to redefine "personhood" under the Oklahoma Constitution [text] was originally challenged [JURIST report] in March. If the amendment ever passes, it would effectively outlaw all abortions, many forms of birth control, and various treatments for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages. In February the Virginia House of Delegates passed a similar "personhood" bill [JURIST report] that defines "life" at the beginning of conception. Last fall, a similar lawsuit challenging the Mississippi personhood ballot initiative was dismissed and eventually rejected [JURIST reports]. In 2007 the Supreme Court of Colorado allowed [JURIST report] an anti-abortion group's personhood ballot initiative that similarly defined a fertilized egg as a "person."

 

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