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Court won’t take up Okla. ‘personhood’ issue

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The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a lawsuit over an Oklahoma "personhood" amendment that sought to grant state constitutional protections to human embryos starting at conception, but pro-life advocates say the issue is far from over.

"We have 40,000 volunteers in Oklahoma who are ready to try again," said Jennifer Mason, communications director of Personhood USA.

Opponents, however, said the high court's decision not to consider Personhood Oklahoma v. Barber was just the latest dismissal of measures seeking to give rights and protections to embryos and fetuses.

"Today's rejection by the highest court in the nation is yet another resounding message to the opponents of reproductive freedom that such extremist assaults on our fundamental rights will not stand," said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which was one of several groups that successfully blocked a petition drive for the personhood amendment in court earlier this year.

In April, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the proposed personhood amendment was "clearly unconstitutional" under both state and U.S. constitutions.

Ms. Northrup applauded that decision, which now prevails because of Monday's announcement by the Supreme Court. "Pure and simple, these [personhood] tactics are an affront to our nation's Constitution and a bald-faced attempt to foreclose women's access to a full range of reproductive health care," she said.

Mathew D. Staver, founder and chief executive of Liberty Counsel, which joined Personhood Oklahoma in seeking Supreme Court review in Personhood Oklahoma v. Barber, said that the high court's decision had no "precedential" bearing on the personhood issue, per se.

Instead, it meant the high court decided not to consider "whether a state court can interfere with the rights of citizens to gather signatures to amend their constitutions," he said.

"On the issue, the Oklahoma Supreme Court decision is wrong. But this is by no means the end of the road in Oklahoma," Mr. Staver added.

Personhood amendments have failed every time at the ballot box. But more campaigns are planned for the 2014 election, said Mrs. Mason. "If abortion is to be abolished, it will be up to the people to do that," she said, noting that neither President Obama nor Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have signaled support for personhood amendments.

Personhood amendments typically say that human rights begin at conception and continue to natural death. Such measures have implications for abortion, embryo research, assisted suicide and other life-and-death issues.

Oklahoma's proposed amendment would have expanded "the legal definition of humanity or 'personhood' to include every human being, regardless of place of residence, race, gender, age, disability, health, level of function, condition of dependency, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of biological development to the end of natural life." If it had been adopted, "intentional killing" of any such "person" would have become illegal without due process of law.

Separately, the Supreme Court on Monday said it has scheduled several gay-marriage cases for its conference on Nov. 20. Decisions could be announced Nov. 26.

If the high court declines to hear Hollingsworth v. Perry, gay marriage will resume in California.

The other cases will determine the fate of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which maintains that in federal law marriage means the union of one man and one woman. Gay and lesbian plaintiffs have sued to overturn DOMA, saying it illegally denies them spousal and marital benefits.

The DOMA cases to be discussed Nov. 20 are Windsor v. United States; Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management; Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management; and the consolidated case, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services.

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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