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May 3, 2012

Oklahoma Supreme Court: Personhood Amendment is Not OK

The decision may be a bellwether for future court challenges.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected earlier this week an initiative that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person, unanimously agreeing that the personhood initiative was “clearly unconstitutional.”


The court's decision comes on the heels of the defeat of a personhood bill in the state legislature, where Republican leaders kept the bill from coming up for a vote before it adjourned last week.

The decision is not binding on any other state, but it could be a bellwether for future court challenges. Compared to other state courts, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is a moderate court, far from the more liberal courts of Hawaii and the northeastern states but also more moderate than the conservative courts in the South.

The unanimous verdict, however, is important. Even the most conservative members of the court agreed that the personhood initiative violated U.S. Supreme Court precedent and was therefore unconstitutional.

The decision likely means that other state courts will also decide that other personhood legislation and initiatives are unconstitutional.

Oklahoma’s court examined the potential initiative after The Center for Reproductive Rights asked the Court to rule on its constitutionality. Oklahoma law allows the courts to review initiatives even before petitioners start gathering the 155,000 signatures needed to put an initiative on the ballot. The court can block a potential initiative that is, on its face, unconstitutional and would result in a “costly and futile election.”

Initiative Petition 395, State Question 761 would have defined a “person” in the state constitution as “any human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being to natural death.”

The decision puts an end to the initiative process before it could start. The preemptive decision by the Court left proponents of the personhood amendment without a clear strategy for how to proceed.

Dan Skerbitz of Personhood Oklahoma told the Tulsa World that his organization is “disappointed.”

"We are looking over our legal options at this moment, and we will follow up with those if there are any,” Skerbitz said.

The court decision is part of a larger debate over personhood in Oklahoma. Last week, the Republican leaders in the Oklahoma House kept a personhood act from being considered before the legislature adjourned.

Before the court’s decision, 22 legislators had tried to extend the session by voting against adjournment. Oklahomans for Life and Personhood Oklahoma took aim at 57 legislators who voted to adjourn, labeling them “pro-abortion representatives.” After protests from pro-life legislators and a strong rebuke from House Speaker Kris Steele, the groups apologized and rescinded their decision to use the adjournment vote as a litmus test on abortion.


Yes, republicans aren't true republicans, once elected they forget why they were elected and vote democractic. In NYS we have the republican party having democrats in charge of republican election campaigns, guess who wins the elections. The republs run former democrats as republicans and wonder why the marriage definition was changed to marriage between billy and john and made legal despite the majority of NY saying between man and women. The party doesn't even talk about abortion, instead it loves the murdering of the unborn and votes for democratic laws to push money into having abortion clinics on every block. The republican party is sick, sicker than the democrats, at least you can count on how democratic politicians vote.

I have never been able to understand the rationale for evangelicals spending time, effort and resources trying to prevent same sex marriage in this country. What we need to care about is whether it is happening among those who call themselves christians. The mission of the church is not to get the world to create laws to make it difficult to sin, the mission is to reach those who are sinning. Since when is the church or christians expected to control laws for the world as part of its evangelistic mission? We need to preach the gospel effectively instead of being sidetracked by these non-evangelical issues. Having read The Screwtape Letters, however, I should not be baffled as they explain how christians can be sidetracked from the real work of evangelism and fritter away their energy on what is not going to help save a single soul.

On another issue raised in the article, reference was made to an organization calling itself the Center For Reproductive Rights. I am not familiar with the charter of this organization, but the name suggests that it is fighting for reproductive rights. Now just what are reproductive rights? On the surface, I would think that it is the right to reproduce, and I have not heard of the right to reproduce being denied anyone in this country. This raises the question, is the name descriptive of what the organization really does, or is it a cover for something else? Reproductive rights in normal english would be expected to mean the right to reproduce, and the persons holding these rights would be those persons who are willing and able to reproduce. So what is the organization fighting for?

A third issue is the definition of a person. This definition depends on the meaning of a "human person" which is not defined. How can clarity be provided by defining one term by using undefined terms? What is a "human being"? I can make a chair out of several pieces of wood. Before that chair is made, can we call each piece of wood which ultimately becomes part of the chair, a part of the chair? Of course this analogy is imperfect because the process of making a chair is mechanical, while the process of human biological development is different. However, human biological development utilizes material that was in existence before the actual biological development had even begun. So what are those pieces of the puzzle to be called before they become incorporated into the human being that is being developed? Rationally this could go round and round in circles. These exercises are distractions from the real work of the church as commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ.

@Welby Warner
The Center For Reproductive Rights largely represents people who are having difficulty conceiving. The Personhood laws/amendments that are being attempted would severely restrict the type of care infertility patients may receive (among other things). There are quite a few lawyers who agree that the laws would most likely be interpreted in a way that would render IVF, for example, impossible.
There are currently attempts being made by several Anti-abortion groups to vilify both IVF, the doctors who provide fertility treatments, and the parents (or parents to be) who seek such treatment.

Parents Against Personhood is a group that is attempting to inform people of the effect these proposed laws/amendments would have on infertility treatments. I hope you will look them up for more information.