U.S. Supreme Court to decide if it will hear Oklahoma's 'personhood' dispute

by Chris Casteel Published: October 29, 2012
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That is a goal of personhood proponents — to give the Supreme Court a case in which it could revisit the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The personhood proposal would define human life as beginning at conception and grant all rights, including those of equal protection and due process, to those meeting the definition. As drafted, the initiative petition said the proposal “generally prohibits abortion.”

Backers of the personhood proposal had sought to get signatures of about 155,000 registered voters to put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Just as proponents began gathering signatures, six Oklahomans challenged the initiative petition, with the backing of the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the petition was “void on its face” and “clearly unconstitutional.”

“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.”

Staver said the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1989 Missouri case upheld language in an abortion law declaring that life begins at conception since the language did not regulate abortion.

In that and subsequent cases, Staver argued in a brief, the high court has rejected the “wholesale facial invalidation of statutes that challengers claim might, in some instances, restrict abortion rights.”

Staver also has challenged the Oklahoma court's ruling on First Amendment grounds, saying the initiative petition was “core political speech” that deserved constitutional protection.

Kiesel, with the Oklahoma ACLU, dismissed Staver's argument, saying the personhood group “is trying to manufacture a federal question for the Supreme Court to latch on to.”

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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