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Supreme Court declines to hear Oklahoma 'personhood' case

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday denied certiorari [order list, PDF] on a case dealing with a proposed ballot initiative [text, PDF] to amend the Oklahoma constitution [text] by defining a fertilized egg as a person. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma [official website] had unanimously ruled [opinion, JURIST report] that granting "personhood" rights to human embryos was unconstitutional. The Oklahoma Supreme Court stated that it was required follow the US Supreme Court's holding in Planned Parenthood v. Casey [opinion, Cornell LII backgrounder], which affirmed the principle that states are prohibited from disallowing abortion prior to viability. An anti-abortion group, Personhood Oklahoma, a state division of Personhood USA [advocacy websites], appealed [JURIST report] that decision to the US Supreme Court in an attempt to reinstate the ballot initiative. The Supreme Court did not provide comment on the one-line denial of certiorari.

The issues regarding personhood initiatives and their possible ramifications [JURIST op-eds] have long been a controversial reproductive rights issue [JURIST backgrounder]. The initiative to redefine "personhood" under the Oklahoma Constitution was originally challenged [JURIST report] in March. If the had amendment ever passed, it would have effectively outlawed 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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