Okla. court halts 'personhood' rights for embryos

Associated Press Modified: April 30, 2012 at 5:31 pm •  Published: April 30, 2012
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday halted an effort to grant "personhood" rights to human embryos, saying the measure is unconstitutional.

The state's highest court ruled unanimously that a proposed amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that would define a fertilized human egg as a person violates a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a Pennsylvania case and "is clearly unconstitutional." Supporters of the personhood amendment are trying to gather enough signatures to put it before Oklahoma voters on the November ballot.

Opponents contend the measure would ban abortions without exception and interfere with a woman's right to use certain forms of contraception and medical procedures, such as in vitro fertilization.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed a protest with the state Supreme Court on behalf of several Oklahoma doctors and residents. They asked the court to stop the group Personhood Oklahoma from gathering signatures.

The nine-member court determined the initiative petition "is void on its face" and struck it down.

"The only course available to this court is to follow what the United States Supreme Court, the final arbiter of the United States Constitution, has decreed," the court said.

The ruling is the latest setback for abortion opponents who have been pursuing personhood measures in several states. In December, a judge in Nevada ruled that a personhood initiative petition was vague and could not be circulated for signatures to qualify for the 2012 ballot. Similar personhood proposals were defeated last year in Mississippi and Colorado.

Dan Skerbitz of Personhood Oklahoma said the organization's attorneys will have to study the decision before deciding how to proceed. He said that next year, supporters may ask the Legislature to place the issue on a statewide ballot.

"We will consider our legal options in response to this," Skerbitz said. "We'll also have to reconsider our on-the-ground strategy here."

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