For the past few years, proposals for new pro-life laws have been part of the regular yearly legislative cycle at the state Capitol, ever since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and then attained equal numbers with Democrats in the Senate.
This year was no exception, with an omnibus pro-life bill now on the desk of Gov. Brad Henry, awaiting his approval or veto--one of which might be rendered by the time this goes to print.
Along with the now-usual yearly fare of pro-life legislation, the usual critics are also speaking out against it.
"Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma asks concerned citizens to contact Governor Brad Henry today and ask him to veto Senate Bill 1878," said Planned Parenthood spokesperson Keri Parks last week in a written statement.
Her comments echoed other pro-choice organizations throughout the state, including the operator of the Pro-Choice Oklahoma blog, who characterized the bill as "onerous."
"Par for the course, the anti-choice legislators have once again pulled a fast one by adding five pieces of anti-choice legislation into SB 1878. This is bad . . . YOUR reproductive rights have just been violated," the blogger wrote.
The "fast one" was "pulled" by Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, the bill's author. He added the language of four other pro-life bills that were at various stages in the legislative process as amendments last week before the Senate approved it with a 38-10 vote.
The House author is Tulsa's Republican Rep. Pam Peterson.
The original language of the bill will, if approved by the Governor, create the "Freedom of Conscience Act," which allows healthcare providers to refuse to participate in an abortion operation or any other procedure on an in vitro human embryo "that is not related to the beneficial treatment" of the embryo.
The law would also apply to acts related to assisted suicide and euthanasia.
"An employer shall not discriminate against an employee or prospective employee by refusing to reasonably accommodate the religious observance or practice of the employee or prospective employee," the proposed law reads, with the qualification, "unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the program, enterprise or business of the employer."
The bill also includes language from HB 3059, by Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Jim Williamson, R-Tulsa, which requires that a conspicuous written notice be posted in abortion clinics or other facilities where abortions are performed, informing readers that the law prohibits anyone being coerced into having an abortion against her will.
The law would also require that minors certify in writing that the attending physician informed her of such before an abortion.
Also included in the bill is language from HB 2181, by Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Kellyville, which would bring Oklahoma statutes in line with the federal Food and Drug Administration's regulations of the "abortion pill," RU-486.
The language of HB 2814, by Sen. Brian Crain and Rep. Daniel Sullivan, both Republicans from Tulsa, is also included.
That bill bans what the authors refer to as "wrongful life" lawsuits against physicians for not recommending abortions when children are born disabled.
Lastly, the bill includes language from HB 3144, by Lamb and Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Purcell, which requires an ultrasound be performed on a woman at least an hour before an abortion procedure.
Or, in the words of the Planned Parenthood spokesperson, it "imposes invasive procedures that have no medical purpose."
Parks disparaged the bill for "forcing" women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, "which may be medically unnecessary," as well as to "listen to a state script about fetal development."
"Doctors," she said, "not politicians, should decide what information and care is best for their patients."
She said her organization is "in favor of women receiving all the information they need to make private health care decisions," but that the measure "hurts all women but also inflicts unnecessary requirements" on rape victims and women who want to end "wanted pregnancies as a result of medical complications."
She Said, She Said
Rep. Pam Peterson, though, rejects such objections.
Rather than "invasive" and "unnecessary," she said ultrasounds are common in abortion clinics, and are routinely performed before and after the procedure.
They perform them beforehand, Peterson explained, because they have to know the gestational age of the child to determine the type of abortion to perform, and afterward, to make sure they've extracted all of the unborn child's body parts.
"There is very useful information that comes from an ultrasound, and the abortionists usually have them right there, so this is not an added burden to them, and this is the last chance that woman has before she makes this life-altering decision," she said.
The only difference now, she explained, is that doctors will be required to let the woman see the ultrasound image prior to the abortion.
"This is to empower that woman, and nobody should be afraid to give that woman all the information. This is a life-altering decision, and she can't do this over," said Peterson.
This aspect of SB 1878 carries a provision in the pro-life omnibus bill from 2006 a step further.
That law requires physicians to refer a women seeking an abortion to an outside site to receive an ultrasound if she wants it.
After it passed, Peterson explained, the House author, former Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, received an e-mail from a woman who, 17 years earlier, had been about to receive an abortion.
"The doctor was using ultrasound, and as he got ready to begin the abortion, he inadvertently turned the screen at angle where she could see it, and she saw that she was pregnant with twins, and was not told that," Peterson recounted.
She said the woman experienced a change of heart in that moment and immediately told the doctor to stop before she got up and left the clinic, eventually giving birth to the twins and raising them.
"She contacted Representative Calvey and told him she was grateful for her 16-year-old twins," Peterson said.
"Had she not had that opportunity, she wouldn't have even known she was pregnant with twins," she said.
"Those are the kinds of real life situations that exist, and to try to prevent that information at that critical time in that woman's life is not fair to her," Peterson added.
"That Planned Parenthood would not want to inform that woman and empower her with all the information . . . if the pro-choice side is truly 'pro-choice,' then give her all the information she needs to make an informed decision," she also said, noting that "Planned Parenthood makes a lot of money and also gets, unfortunately, tax dollars to be involved in this killing business."
She also pointed out that the woman doesn't have to look at the ultrasound image of the fetus if she doesn't want to.
But, the objections of Planned Parenthood didn't end there.
Among other criticisms, and perhaps ironically, considering Peterson's remarks, the pro-choice spokesperson said the new law would "prevent families from receiving vital information" as a result of the provisions banning "wrongful life" suits.
"A medical professional who intentionally fails to perform available tests, even when requested, or who intentionally fails to accurately report to the parents of a fetus the results of such a test, would be totally immune from legal consequences," warned Parks.
Tulsa's Rep. Daniel Sullivan told UTW that such "wrongful life" lawsuits aren't happening in Oklahoma, since existing legal precedent states that "you can't sue for being born," or "you can't sue for someone being born."
He said the prototype examples of "wrongful life" lawsuits are when a woman gets her tubes tied or a man gets a vasectomy, but wind up getting pregnant or impregnating someone anyway, and then suing the doctor who performed the operation.
"The courts have held that there wasn't a cause of action for that," said Sullivan, who is an attorney.
However, a new trend of lawsuits in other parts of the country is for doctors to be sued by parents because they didn't advise them to get an abortion prior to having disabled children.
"We're trying to make sure that doesn't happen in Oklahoma," said Sullivan.
But, the Planned Parenthood spokesperson contended, "That choice should belong to the family."
"Thousands of Oklahomans avail themselves of scientific tests to determine prior to birth if they will deliver a healthy baby," she said, but warned that under the new law, "A medical professional, or even a laboratory employee, with impunity, could make the choice to force an innocent family into a life of heartache and financial ruin by intentionally causing the birth of a child with profound, even terminal birth defects."
Looking for Biology, Humanity
"Well, that's a smokescreen," countered Sullivan.
He explained that his law wouldn't preclude a cause of action for such intentional acts as described by Parks.
"They use the word 'intentional,' and that's a lot different than 'negligent' acts," he said, noting that such an "intentional" act would be hard to prove anyway, with or without his law in place.
"They always tend to use these kinds of absurd examples to prove their case, especially in underlining the 'intentional' aspect of that, and that's not what we're talking about," Sullivan added.
"That's a very unusual circumstance that they're painting--that a doctor knows there's a test he should run because there's a particular concern, and he doesn't give the parents the option to run that test," he said.
"You would have to have, obviously, a concern that something is going on to recommend these tests in the first place. Most people don't have these high-dollar tests done on a normal pregnancy," Sullivan also said.
He said there's always a possibility that a doctor would deliberately choose not to inform a patient of the availability of such tests because of conscientious objections to abortions, but said it's not a likely circumstance.
"You can always paint some possible scenario to make anybody look as bad as you want them to be, but I don't think that's a practical scenario to consider here," he said.
The lawmaker wryly noted the irony of Planned Parenthood's objections to the ultrasound provision while they're accusing pro-life legislators of trying to create a situation in which women would be deprived of information.
"Let's the flip the coin and ask, 'Why aren't you just as vigilant to make sure that the mother has the opportunity to see what's going with the development of this baby before there's an abortion?' It seems rather one-sided in their objections," he said.
Sullivan added, "This doesn't prevent an abortion from happening, this just makes sure the woman has all the facts and information available to her beforehand."
At the time of this writing, the Governor hadn't made any public comment about the proposed law, but his spokesman, Paul Sund, said Henry wants to review the final version of the bill before making a decision or stating a position.
Sen. Lamb, though, noted to UTW that the bill received "tremendous bi-partisan support," and that asking Planned Parenthood about it "is like asking Bob Stoops what he thinks of the OSU football program."
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