that abortion (i.e., the right to privacy) was not only a constitutional right federally, but in terms of the Oklahoma state constitution as well. We red state progressives also enjoyed stunned silence from usually-snarky bloggers who love making Oklahoma the butt of jokes. Now Mason and Personhood USA are trying to get the Supreme Court to make a ruling that the right to terminate a pregnancy – in Oklahoma and elsewhere – should be put to a public referendum. (They’re also continuing to collect signatures around the country to get personhood measures on the ballot there.)
Almost exactly a month before this move was announced, Newsweek ran a profile of Mason and his wife, referring to him as “half preacher, half hipster” amid a flurry of generally hilarious (in a laugh-and-cry sort of way) statements and imagery. His plans to appeal the Oklahoma decision with the U.S. Supreme Court were mentioned in passing, then not heard of again – until last week. Personhood USA chapters have had very little success in the court system, probably because they’re trying to get unconstitutional laws passed. And this appeal seems fairly weak on first glance.
In theory, constitutional rights decisions are made through a court system rather than through referendum because they deal with a relatively powerless or small group who would not have even a chance of affecting the outcome of a public vote. In Keith Mason’s mind, fertilized ova are a powerless group of people. Fine. But they’re not the ones voting. In this particular appeal, Mason is fighting not for the rights of embryos, but for the rights of adults who want to vote on personhood legislation – he claims their right to petition their government was impeded by the Oklahoma court decision. A successful appeal would prevent courts in other states from blocking similar legislation.
Similarly, “religious freedom” clauses in state healthcare mandates are the most popular method for conservative state legislatures to restrict access to contraception and other reproductive health services. Conscience clauses allow employers who provide comprehensive healthcare to exclude coverage of those items from their insurance policy. By claiming that any restriction on their freedom to oppress others is, in fact, oppression, anti-choicers create the semblance of real concern over the state of “freedom” and “liberty” in this country. Such rhetoric has been building for decades and includes everything from the fight against Affirmative Action to the extremely nebulous statement “America has lost her way.” If only white men had the “freedom” to take her firmly by the elbow and force her to submit! That’s real freedom, according to Personhood USA.
So don’t get caught off-guard – when you start hearing talk about “religious freedom” and “voting rights,” dig in your heels and put ‘em mitts up. Their “individual liberty” to speak freely and to cast a ballot does not trump your hard-won and tenuously-held right to privacy and bodily integrity.