A national group filed an appeal Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court contesting an Oklahoma court ruling that struck down a proposed petition seeking a vote to change state law so that a fertilized human egg would be defined as a person.
Keith Mason, founder of Personhood USA, said the state court's ruling infringed on Oklahomans' rights to petition their government.
“This is about equal access to the democratic process,” he said. “No citizen can be blocked from expressing their views on such a critical issue as life.”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling April 30, which stated the personhood proposal was unconstitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled that women have a constitutional right to an abortion. The state's high court has ruled in the past that unconstitutional initiatives should not make it to voters on a ballot.
Mason said the U.S. Supreme Court could use the case to determine whether abortion should be decided by the states or it could even toss out the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that struck down anti-abortion laws in the nation.
“This has the ability to challenge this right to abortion in the Constitution according to the Supreme Court,” Mason said. “They could look at this and return abortion to the states; they could even ban abortion completely.
“All those things are sort of up in the air, we don't know,” said Mason, whose organization has offices in Los Angeles, Denver and New York. “But what we do know is that the fight continues. This is only the first of many times that we plan to take this issue to court.
“We're sort of demanding that all humans be treated as persons and we're not going to quit until every child is protected by love and by law,” he said.
Ryan Kiesel, a former state lawmaker who is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said it's doubtful the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the appeal because the proposed initiative petition would have banned all abortions and many common forms of birth control.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that such bans violate a woman's right and the Oklahoma Supreme Court was right to stop it,” Kiesel said. “We are confident that this desperate effort to intrude on the deeply personal decisions of Oklahoma women and their families will not move forward.”
Legislative efforts on the personhood issue will resume next year at the state Capitol, said Rep. Mike Reynolds, a key supporter of the personhood initiative petition effort. Two personhood measures failed to advance this year.
Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, filed a measure this year seeking a ballot issue that would have criminalized abortion by granting personhood status to a human embryo. It would have banned birth control methods or in vitro fertilization that “kills a person” and also stated there would be no exceptions for pregnancies that occur as a result of rape or incest. When his measure didn't advance, he joined efforts to start a petition drive to get a similar measure submitted to voters on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Legal challenges were filed and the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the proposed petition was unconstitutional.
Personhood USA, in its appeal, states the Oklahoma Supreme Court overstepped its bounds.
“By striking the measure before it had been submitted to a vote of the people, without affording any defense to the presumed constitutionality of the measure, the Oklahoma court put itself in direct conflict with the decisions of a majority of state supreme courts that have considered the issue,” it states.
When the Oklahoma justices made their ruling, supporters of the personhood proposal were seeking to get signatures of about 155,000 registered voters to put the question on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. A state law passed in 2009 requires protests to initiative petitions be filed with the Supreme Court before all the signatures are collected.
Reynolds said depending on what happens with the personhood appeal, he may file legislation asking the Legislature to put a personhood proposal on the ballot or he may file a proposal seeking to make it a state law.
“It would be hard for the court to overturn the Legislature wanting to put it on the ballot,” Reynolds said. “That would be a whole different kind of lawsuit.”