Oklahoma Supreme Court calls Personhood Amendment “unconstitutional”

Advocates for the act are optimistic, calling this latest setback a “momentum-builder.”

It has been a busy few weeks for supporters and opponents of the Oklahoma Personhood Act. The act would define life as beginning at conception. According to Personhood USA, the measure was approved by the Oklahoma State Senate with a vote of 34 to 8 and was even given a “do pass” recommendation by the Oklahoma House Public Health Committee. The Oklahoma House failed to vote on the bill, with Rep. Kris Steele, the Speaker of the House, blocking a vote. Rep. Steele claimed the Republican caucus took a vote and it was determined that the bill should not be voted on. However, it became apparent that, contrary to Steele’s claims, no official vote was taken by the caucus, but the whip system was used to determine what Republican leaders’ wishes were. With the failure of the Oklahoma House to vote on the measure, supporters knew they needed to collect enough signatures to allow Oklahoma voters to make their wishes known on the November ballot.

On Monday, however, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the “measure is clearly unconstitutional.” According to Reuters, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and local pro-choice groups had challenged the petition for the measure in court last month. The Center for Reproductive Rights claimed in a statement after the Court’s decision that “[t]he initiative aimed to effectively ban all abortions and many types of birth control – and severely threaten fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilization.” Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA, argued against the validity of the CRR’s statement. Mason told the Daily Beast that in-vitro fertilization would not be banned, but the process by which fertilized eggs are discarded would be changed. As for birth control, Mason said the medical community must distinguish between which forms of birth control block a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. As for abortion, the bill would certainly prevent the practice in Oklahoma.

Dan Skerbitz of Personhood Oklahoma noted of the decision, “Obviously, we are disappointed. We are looking over our legal options at this moment, and we will follow up with those if there are any. The real message to the pro-life people of Oklahoma is that our House of Representatives last week failed. The Supreme Court failed us today. It is time for us to double our efforts at the grass-roots level to push something to happen. There are other ways to get on the ballot. We are not going to stop, and it reinvigorates the grass-roots level to realize we have to get the job done ourselves.”

Keith Mason offered a similar positive outlook, saying, “I see this as a momentum builder.” Mason believes the decision “makes people mad,” and that “[i]t’s making the social tension so extreme. Oklahoma is one of the most pro-life states in America. It’s the Bible belt. This will help motivate the people of Oklahoma to fight.”

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