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‘Life’ laws



House Bill 1888, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, bans abortions past the 20th week of pregnancy, a change from the previous 24 weeks. Senate Bill 547 is meant to prevent elective abortion coverage in insurance policies sold in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is the fourth state to pass a pain-capable law, and opponents claim the laws are simply attempts to restrict abortion access.

Kelly Jennings, co-chairwoman of the Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said the legislation is based on bad science.

“They are saying that beyond week 20 a fetus can feel pain,” she said. “That is simply not accurate. They are confusing response to stimuli with a pain response.”

In 2005, the “Journal of the American Medical Association” released a report on the issue. The abstract for “Fetal pain: a systematic multidisciplinary review of the evidence,” sums up the organization’s findings as follows: “This review concludes that based on the best available scientific evidence, a human fetus probably does not have the capacity to experience pain until the 29th week of pregnancy at the earliest.”

“These laws are an attempted end run around Roe v. Wade,” Jennings said. “They are simply trying to make it as difficult as possible for a woman to get an abortion. The end result will be the state will spend tax dollars it needs for other programs when these bills end up in court.”

Fallin was asked about the issue of pending legislation on the bills she signed.

“Gov. Fallin is not going to speculate on the likelihood of impending litigation, but she does not believe that prohibiting the painful death of an unborn child is unconstitutional,” Communications Director Alex Weintz said.

When asked if that meant she believed prohibiting abortion is constitutional, Weintz replied that the governor believes the bills she signed are constitutional. “This legislation was written with a Supreme Court challenge in mind,” Weintz said. “The court has consistently upheld some restrictions on abortion.”

The two bills Fallin signed were part of no less than nine pro-life bills considered by the Legislature this session. Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said the bills were a continuation of last year’s legislative attempt to “put barriers in the way of reproductive justice.”

“The Legislature passed eight bills last year,” Skeeters said. “Four of those were vetoed by Gov. Henry. The vetoes were all overturned except for the insurance bill, the new version of which the governor signed (April 20): SB 547.”

Skeeters said her organization coalesced at the end of the 2010 legislative session because of concerns about Oklahoma’s negative environment for reproductive justice.

“Our mission is to make issues of reproductive justice visible and to educate the public,” she said.

In terms of education, Skeeters said she was disappointed the Legislature ignored several “positive” bills related to reproductive rights, including bills on compassionate assistance for rape victims and sex education in public schools.

Jennings said the bills, including the two Fallin signed, were a strategic attempt to undermine abortion rights.

“They can’t ban legal abortion,” she said, “so they make it difficult. They go after medications in the clinics, push back the number of weeks at which a pregnancy can be terminated and try to redefine personhood. Ultimately, they are trying to codify a religious point of view. They are welcome to their views, but they cannot force it on us.”

Both Jennings and Skeeters spoke of a nationwide effort to restrict reproductive rights, and their assertions are confirmed by a report from the Guttmacher Institute. In the 2010 State Policy Review, the nonprofit reported 950 measures related to reproductive health and rights in 44 states and the District of Columbia. The result was 89 new laws in 32 states by the end of 2010.

The numbers indicated a sharp increase in such legislation since 2008, a year that saw only 33 new laws. In 2009, the numbers increased to 77 new laws.

One of the bills Jennings mentioned, HB 1970, regulates abortion-inducing drugs, The bill’s author, Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, said the goal wasn’t to restrict reproductive rights.

“My bill is about protecting women,” Grau said. “The bill provides for an exam by a physician prior to dispensing an abortion-inducing drug, and then requires a follow-up visit. This seems medically responsible.”

Grau contends that his bill, which has passed the Senate Health and Human Services committee, is about protecting women. Some verbiage from the bill is drawn from model legislation provided by Americans United for Life, a Washington, D.C.-based pro-life organization with the stated goal of helping “legislators write commonsense laws that protect human life at every stage.” The template, “Abortion-Inducing Drugs Safety Act: Model Legislation & Policy Guide For the 2011 Legislative Year,” is available online. Grau had no comment on the model legislation.

Fallin is clear about her position.

In a press conference following the billsigning ceremony, Fallin said, “I believe life begins at conception. Life is very sacred. I believe God has given each one of us a responsibility to do what we can to protect life, especially the lives of the unborn.”

Weintz said Fallin “does not agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, nor does she believe the authors of the Constitution outlined a right to terminate the life of an unborn child. She is pro-life.”

View HB 1970 as introduced and the Americans United for Life’s model legislation.

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