OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Anti-abortion lawmakers vowed Wednesday to continue pushing for tighter restrictions in Oklahoma as hundreds of advocates flooded the halls of the state Capitol as part of a rally to urge lawmakers to pass more anti-abortion laws.
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin joined dozens of members of the House and Senate for a Rose Day rally in the House chamber in which lawmakers touted their anti-abortion credentials to the applause of rose-wielding abortion opponents who packed the House gallery.
Even as two previous abortion measures approved by the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Legislature remain bogged down amid court challenges, lawmakers this year want to further restrict a woman's legal right to terminate a pregnancy. Among several bills being considered this year are measures granting "personhood" status to embryos and requiring women seeking an abortion to first listen to the heartbeat of a fetus. Another would prohibit the use of aborted human fetuses in food, despite the Senate author's concession he's unaware of any company using such a practice.
"For whatever reason, in recent years Oklahoma has had an abysmal record on reproductive rights and issues and has been engaged on a continuous assault on women's health and rights, and it's very disappointing," said Stephanie Toti, a senior attorney at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which has sued to stop two separate Oklahoma abortion laws from taking effect.
A bill passed two years ago requiring women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound performed and another approved last year restricting the use of abortion-inducing medications both have been temporarily blocked while the court considers legal challenges.
This year, two separate "personhood" measures have been introduced — one that would place the issue on the November ballot and another that would put into statute that life begins in Oklahoma once an egg has been fertilized.
"What I'm stating in the bill is that it's the policy of the state of Oklahoma that life begins at conception," said Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa.
Crain, an attorney, says he patterned the language after a similar measure approved in Missouri in 1986 that the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled was constitutional. He said his bill would not outlaw abortion or the use of certain birth control methods.
"Anyone that was to say this bill outlaw abortions or would say that this is going to make doctors criminally liable is ignoring what has been the hallmark of the pro-abortion movement since 1973, which is Roe versus Wade," he said, referring to the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization that supports abortion rights, eight states already have enacted laws requiring abortion providers make available the sounds of a fetal heartbeat. Another 22 states are pushing some sort of effort to establish fetal personhood.
Tony Lauinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life, said the ultimate goal of the personhood and fetal heartbeat bills is to save the lives of the unborn.
"We hope that as many lives can be saved as is possible to save, and not only does that benefit the child whose life is spared, but it benefits the mother who steps back from the irrevocable, lethal act of taking her child's life," Lauinger said.
But Crain's bill, which was approved earlier this week in a Senate committee, already is prompting some doctors to express grave concerns about the chilling effect it could have on reproductive medical services.
"These are bills that have very vast and a plethora of unintended consequences," said Dr. Eli Reshef, a reproductive endocrinologist and the medical director of the Bennett Fertility Institute at Integris Baptist Hospital in Oklahoma City. "In vitro fertilization is the process where we take the sperm and the egg, put them together in a laboratory. All of a sudden in the lab now we're stewards of persons?"
Reshef accused Crain and other Oklahoma lawmakers of "pandering to the extreme right" and said these types of bills contradict another goal of Republicans, which is fostering a pro-business environment in the state.
"A bill like this will not only be an embarrassment to the intellect of any Oklahoman, but it will have a potential impact about the image of the state, including its economic wellbeing," Reshef said.
SB 1433, the Personhood Act:
HR 1067, personhood state question:
SB 1274, the Heartbeat Informed Consent Act:
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