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Oklahoma Supreme Court strikes down personhood ballot initiative

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma [official website] on Monday ruled [opinion] that granting "personhood" rights to human embryos is unconstitutional, thus derailing a proposed ballot initiative [text, PDF] to amend the state's constitution by defining a fertilized egg as a person. Finding the initiative "void on its face," Oklahoma's highest court unanimously declared that it must follow the US Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey [opinion], which has already spoken on "[the] issue of the constitutionality of [an] initiative petition." The initiative's supporters originally tried to gather enough petition signatures to put the personhood issue on Oklahoma's November election ballot, but were stopped by the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy websites], both of whom filed the lawsuit [text, PDF] on behalf of Oklahoma doctors and residents.

The issues regarding personhood initiatives and their possible ramifications [JURIST comments] have long been controversial. The initiative to redefine "personhood" under the Oklahoma Constitution [text] was originally challenged [JURIST report] in March. If the amendment ever passes, it would effectively outlaw all abortions, many forms of birth control, and various treatments for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages. In February the Virginia House of Delegates passed a similar "personhood" bill [JURIST report] that defines "life" at the beginning of conception. Last fall, a similar lawsuit challenging the Mississippi personhood ballot initiative was dismissed and eventually rejected [JURIST reports]. In 2007 the Supreme Court of Colorado allowed [JURIST report] an anti-abortion group's personhood ballot initiative that similarly defined a fertilized egg as a "person."

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