Oklahoma "personhood" law to grant embryos rights as people fails

OKLAHOMA CITY Thu Apr 19, 2012 5:12pm EDT

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OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A proposed 'personhood' law in Oklahoma that would grant embryos full rights as people from the moment of conception failed in the state's legislature without ever coming to a vote in the House of Representatives, a state lawmaker said on Thursday.

The Republican-controlled House had been expected to approve the Personhood Act, which passed the state Senate in February, and Republican Governor Mary Fallin had been expected to sign it.

But Republican lawmaker Sally Kern said the bill, which had been amended nearly two dozen times in committee, failed without ever coming to a full vote.

While the personhood bill did not expressly prohibit abortion, abortion-rights advocates have said there was nothing to stop hospital administrators or local law enforcement agencies from restricting or criminalizing abortions under such a law.

If an embryo has full legal rights, abortion would represent murder. The bill does not carve out exceptions for rape or incest.

Missouri is the only state so far with such a "personhood" law on its books establishing legal rights for embryos, though similar initiatives have been proposed in a handful of states.

These include last fall's failed attempt in Mississippi to enact a personhood amendment to the state constitution and a similar proposal in Virginia that was put on hold by the legislature until next year.

But Oklahoma's bill sought to go farther than Missouri's in challenging the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion by not including language acknowledging that it defers to the court and Constitution.

Like other personhood measures, the Oklahoma bill has been controversial within the anti-abortion camp. The initiatives were designed to provoke legal challenges from abortion-rights supporters, with the ultimate goal of giving the Supreme Court a vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to Keith Mason, a leader of the movement.

(Reporting By Steve Olafson; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Paul Thomasch)

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