Personhood Act Aborted in Oklahoma Legislature

Anti-abortion extremists suffered a loss Thursday when SB 1433, the so-called Personhood Act, failed to gain any traction in the Oklahoma House. The House Republican Caucus voted to not advance the bill, which had already been approved by the state Senate.

Before we begin celebrating this pro-choice victory, though, the Oklahoma House made it clear that despite tabling the Personhood Act, it is not throwing in the towel in the battle over fertilized eggs. State House Speaker Kris Steele said at a press conference that the state is not weakening its anti-abortion stance:

We are already perhaps the most pro-life state in the country, having passed at least 30 various pro-life measures in the past eight years alone. You will not find a bigger friend of the unborn than this Legislature, but this bill would not have any substantive policy effect.

For more than a year there has been an onslaught of anti-women bills proposed in nearly every state legislature, but none have been as terrifying as the Personhood Act. The bill grants fertilized eggs “all the rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents” of the state, effectively making fertilized eggs equal to those of us already living and breathing outside the womb. If passed, it would not only outlaw abortion but also IVF (in vitro fertilization), stem-cell research and various types of birth control, including Plan B and IUDs.

Personhood raises numerous questions ranging from the reasonable (can you claim a fetus as a “dependent” on your taxes?) to the satirical (can pregnant women drive in carpool lanes?). But let’s not forget the most outlandish possibility that personhood raises. Half of all fertilized eggs never implant or spontaneously abort before a woman realizes she’s pregnant. If every fertilized egg has inalienable rights, then every period is a suspected homicide.

Thirty-two states saw grassroots personhood initiatives in 2009, yet it was first seriously introduced in Mississippi in 2011 as an amendment to the state’s constitution, where it was defeated in a statewide vote last November. The extremist group Personhood USA was instrumental in bringing the Personhood Amendment to Mississippi and has continued to push ballot initiatives in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon and Oklahoma. Personhood Oklahoma is currently tied up in litigation with the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the initiative.

The failures of personhood in two of the most conservative, anti-choice states should be an indicator for extremist anti-abortion lawmakers, yet the protection for zygotes and embryos has been a priority in conservative legislatures across the nation. In addition to Oklahoma, personhood bills have been introduced in Alabama, Kansas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin in 2012; all but Alabama have defeated the bills.

And just today, the Tennessee House passed a bill similar to personhood, criminalizing doing harm to embryos—a revision to a previous law that prosecuted the harming of viable fetuses at 32 weeks of gestation or more. Although this bill goes to such far lengths to “protect” the “unborn,” it neglects the health, rights and dignity of women by forcing those who have suffered miscarriages to prove they were not deliberate, or else face homicide or assault charges.

Photo of pro-choice Oklahoma state Sen. Judy McIntyre from Creative Commons 3.0.


Lauren Barbato is a writer who enjoys focusing on the intersection of the arts and social justice. As a journalist, she has contributed to Ms., the Women's Media Center, IndieWire, MovieMaker Magazine and many others. She holds a B.F.A. degree in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_barbato.