Earlier this week, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled a fetal personhood ballot measure unconstitutional. The measure, which would have defined “personhood” as beginning at the moment sperm joins egg and would have granted zygotes/embryos/fetuses the same rights as people outside the womb.
The Justices ruled the initiative “clearly unconstitutional” and referenced the 1993 United States Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood versus Casey, which challenged overly stringent abortion restrictions and upheld Roe versus Wade and the constitutional right of women to seek abortion services without state interference.
Personhood measures are a new tool of anti-abortion activists, who are introducing them in state legislatures and as ballot initiatives in order to codify fetal rights and make aborting a pregnancy meet a legal definition of murder. The problem that arises is that the proposed measures also start affecting other areas of reproductive health such as contraception (IUDs, Plan B emergency contraception can stop the implantation of a fertilized egg – would IUD use become murder?), IVF treatment (if all the embryos are persons, and some were destroyed, intentionally or not, would medical staff be murderers?), and medical care for mothers (if a mother requires medical treatment that is could harm the fetus, whose rights come first? Her’s or the fetus’s?).
So far, not one state has passed a personhood law, largely because of the difficulties in reconciling the anti-abortion intent with the unintended consequences that could severely limit a woman’s right to manage her own health. This decision out of the Oklahoma Supreme Court is a refreshing defense of a woman’s right to choose – not just whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not – but to manage her reproductive health at all stages, without limits imposed by anyone other than herself and her physician.
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