Supreme Court rejects personhood appeal

By Staff
Nov 2, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider a request to allow Oklahomans the opportunity to vote on a personhood amendment protecting unborn children.

The justices issued an order Oct. 29 rejecting an appeal by the initiative’s supporters, thereby permitting a decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stand. The state high court ruled in April the initiative violated a 20-year-old decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Oklahoma high court invalidated the initiative even though Personhood Oklahoma, the organization behind the effort, was still seeking at the time to gain the signatures needed to place the proposal on the November ballot. In its order, the state’s justices ruled the initiative contravened the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which permitted some state restrictions on abortion but reaffirmed a woman’s right to the procedure.

The rejected proposal would have amended the Oklahoma constitution to define a person as “any human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being to natural death.” It also would have protected due process and equal protection rights regardless of “age, place of residence or medical condition.”

The Oklahoma effort is part of a nationwide movement seeking to gain legal protection for unborn babies.

Personhood Oklahoma responded to the high court order by announcing it would renew its petition effort the next day, Oct. 30. “In Oklahoma, the people were denied their right to petition and their right to vote. … [T]he people of Oklahoma will not rest until our voices are heard, and our women and children are protected from abortion,” said Dan Skerbitz, leader of Personhood Oklahoma, in a written statement.

Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver, who represented Personhood Oklahoma, said in a written release, “The issue is not about the merits of personhood but about whether a state court can interfere with the rights of citizens to gather signatures to amend their constitutions. On the issue, the Oklahoma Supreme Court decision is wrong.”

The head of one of the abortion rights organizations that opposed the personhood initiative said the Oct. 29 order was “another resounding message … that such extremist assaults on our fundamental rights will not stand.” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a written statement that personhood initiatives are “a bald-faced attempt to foreclose women’s access to a full range of reproductive health care.”

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