Suit filed over Oklahoma personhood ballot measure

Posted on March 29, 2012

The Examiner, March 29, 2012 by Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A petition to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to define a fertilized human egg as a person is unconstitutional and would have far-reaching implications that trump the rights of women, a group argued in a legal protest filed Thursday to stop the effort.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed the protest with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on behalf of several Oklahoma doctors and residents. They want the court to stop Personhood Oklahoma from gathering signatures in an attempt to place a proposed amendment to the constitution on the November ballot.

“Let’s save the taxpayers of Oklahoma the time and expense of collecting and verifying signatures, placing this question on the ballot and sending something that we know is unconstitutional to a vote of the people,” said Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the ACLU’s Oklahoma chapter and a former Democratic lawmaker.

Personhood Oklahoma launched its initiative petition on March 1 and has 90 days from that date to gather signatures from about 155,000 registered Oklahoma voters. If successful, the group wants to have a proposed amendment to the constitution on the ballot that defines a person as “any human being from the beginning of biological development to natural death.” Petition organizers have said their goal is to ban abortions and set up a legal challenge to the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 that gave women a legal right to abortion.

The director of Personhood Oklahoma did not return a telephone message seeking comment, but the national group released a statement saying the legal challenge was not unexpected.

“The opponents of personhood will stop at nothing to deny the people of Oklahoma their First Amendment right to petition the government on behalf of the preborn and ultimately recognize the most basic and fundamental human rights of the smallest and most defenseless people group,” said Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA.

Similar proposals were defeated last year in Mississippi and Colorado, but the national anti-abortion group Personhood USA is pushing ballot measures in a dozen other states.

In the legal petition filed Thursday, the plaintiffs maintain the proposed amendment “would confer rights on a fertilized egg that trump the rights of each woman to determine whether and when to conceive and whether to carry a pregnancy to term.” They argue the proposal would ban abortions without exceptions and interfere with a woman’s right to use certain forms of contraception and medical procedures, like in vitro fertilization.

A separate legislative measure to grant personhood status to an embryo already passed the Oklahoma Senate this year and is pending in the House, but the author of that bill said the measure will not outlaw abortions or birth control. Tulsa Republican Sen. Brian Crain said his bill is designed only to send a message that Oklahomans believe life begins at conception.

With a Republican-controlled Legislature and now a GOP governor in office, the Oklahoma Legislature has been pushing some of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country. A new law restricting the use of abortion inducing drugs has been placed on hold pending a legal challenge. Another requiring a pregnant woman to have an ultrasound performed and force a doctor to describe the fetus before an abortion can be performed was ruled unconstitutional on Wednesday by a district court judge in Oklahoma City.

A bill forcing abortion providers to offer to make the fetal heartbeat of the unborn child audible for a pregnant woman to hear is pending in the House, where it is expected to pass.

Posted in: Oklahoma