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Okla. Court Rules Proposed 'Personhood' Measure is Unconstitutional

Okla. Court Rules Proposed 'Personhood' Measure is Unconstitutional; Gov. Signs Fetal Heartbeat Bill

May 1, 2012 — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that a proposed "personhood" ballot measure (Initiative Petition No. 395) that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person is unconstitutional, The Oklahoman reports (McNutt, The Oklahoman, 4/30).

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Oklahoma and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed the suit in March in an attempt to block the proposal from the state's November ballot. If enacted, the ballot measure would have altered the state constitution to define a person as "any human being from the beginning of biological development to natural death."

The suit, filed on behalf of several Oklahoma doctors and residents, alleged that the amendment "would confer rights on a fertilized egg that trump the rights of each woman to determine whether and when to conceive and whether to carry a pregnancy to term." ACLU and CRR said that the amendment is unconstitutional, would ban abortion under all circumstances and would interfere with a woman's right to use certain forms of birth control and access certain medical procedures, such as in vitro fertilization.

Personhood Oklahoma, the antiabortion-rights group behind the ballot measure, launched an petition on March 1 to collect 155,000 signatures from registered Oklahoma voters. The group has said its goal is to tee up a challenge to Roe v. Wade and ultimately outlaw abortion (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/30).

Monday's Ruling

The nine justices on the Oklahoma Supreme Court said the proposed amendment is "void on its face" and conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which allows states to pass some abortion restrictions but bars them from overturning the constitutional right to abortion (Bassett, Huffington Post, 4/30).

Abortion-rights advocates praised the court's decision. "This amendment would have run roughshod over the fundamental, constitutionally protected reproductive rights of all Oklahoma women," CRR president Nancy Northup said (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 4/30).

Dan Skerbitz, director of Personhood Oklahoma, said the group will consider its options, including the possibility of pushing for the Legislature to approve a resolution to put the measure directly on the ballot (The Oklahoman, 4/30).

The law is scheduled to take effect on Nov. 1 (Montgomery, KTUL, 4/28).