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Oklahoma Supreme Court strikes down personhood proposal

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the proposed personhood measure violates a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court opinion upholding the right of a woman to have an abortion.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: April 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm •  Published: April 30, 2012

“It speaks volumes that a unanimous court of Democratic and Republican appointees reaffirmed the constitutional right for a woman to make her own reproductive health care decisions without interference from the government,” he said.

Justices react

The state justices said they had little choice.

“The United States Supreme Court has spoken on this issue,” Chief Justice Steven Taylor wrote. “The states are duty bound to follow its interpretation of the law.”

The Oklahoma justices referred to a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the constitutionality of several Pennsylvania state regulations regarding abortion was challenged. The court upheld a woman's constitutional right to have an abortion, with the justices imposing a new standard to determine the validity of laws restricting abortions. The new standard asks whether a state abortion regulation has the purpose or effect of imposing an “undue burden,” which is defined as a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

Similar ruling

Twenty years ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court made a similar ruling to Monday's state high court opinion.

In a 1992 case about a month after the U.S. Supreme Court decision involving Pennsylvania, the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked a ballot initiative that sought to ban abortion in Oklahoma, saying, “When the unconstitutionality of the initiative petition is manifest, a pre-election judicial determination of the issue is both appropriate and necessary to avoid a costly and useless election.”

Future plans

Backers of the personhood proposal were seeking to get signatures of about 155,000 registered voters to put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot. A state law passed in 2009 requires protests to initiative petitions be filed with the Supreme Court before all the signatures are collected.

“We'll have to restrategize our on-the-ground efforts here in Oklahoma,” Skerbitz said. “There are ways around the Supreme Court.”

Officials with the Center for Reproductive Rights said the ballot proposal, if approved, would have banned abortion under all circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest or when a woman's life or health is at risk.

It also had the potential to affect a wide range of other medical care, including treatment of ectopic pregnancy, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and medical treatment for pregnant women.

The proposed ballot question was similar to but different from SB 1433, which states Oklahoma is an anti-abortion state. The bill would not have made women subject to homicide or manslaughter charges for seeking an abortion, because abortion is allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the measure's authors have said.


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