Sunday, May 06, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #55 - Part 1

Good news: "Personhood" failure in Oklahoma

I have previously mentioned the so-called "personhood" bills in various states. These bills propose to provide full legal rights to embryos from the moment of conception - so not only fetuses, but embryos and even zygotes would have the same legal status as actual people. Obviously, these laws are meant to ban abortions; some of them go as far as failing to allow exceptions even to protect the life of the pregnant woman.

There was one such bill gliding through the Oklahoma legislature. It had passed the state Senate, it had passed a House committee, the governor said she would sign it. Its prospects in a legislature that had passed more than 30 anti-abortion measures since right wing gained control in 2004 looked golden.

But something happened: Grassroots opposition sprang up and over time became strong enough to move some GOPper legislators in the state to propose amendments to the bill to limit its reach. That drove wedge between these right-wingers and the really right-wingers behind the bill, who opposed any amendments, even ones to protect access to in vitro fertilization and birth control or which would clarify that women with life-threatening pregnancies could still receive medical treatment.

As a result of that wedge, bad blood developed between the bill's outside wacko backers and the legislators - and ultimately the bill was not brought up for vote and time time to do so has now expired. The bill is dead, at least for this session.

Before leaving that bit aside, it's worth noting that the Rev. Paul Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City, sent a letter to all the parishes in the diocese telling the priests to tell their congregations to contact their state legislators to support the bill. How urging specific actions on behalf of a specific piece of legislation does - how does not violate the Church's tax-exempt status is beyond me.

Beyond that, there was more good news. There was to be a "personhood" question on the Oklahoma ballot in the fall which would amend the state Constitution to do via amendment what that bill would do via legislation: Give zygotes the same legal rights as actual people from the moment of fertilization.

On April 30, the Oklahoma state Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, struck it off ballot, ruling it "clearly unconstitutional" precisely because it would block a woman's legal right to have an abortion. The Court noted the SCOTUS ruling in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Court allowed states to pass some abortion restrictions but prevents them from banning abortion entirely. "The mandate of Casey is as binding on this Court today as it was twenty years ago," the Oklahoma Supreme Court wrote. The initiative "conflicts with Casey and is void on its face and it is hereby ordered stricken."

In an aside that should be filed under Unintentional Humor, the group behind the amendment drive, Personhood USA, says it will appeal to the US Supreme Court, citing as justification for its claim that the Oklahoma court got it wrong the minority opinion, that is, the losing side, in Casey.


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