Personhood measure, S.B. 1433, clears Oklahoma state Senate

 The Oklahoma state Senate easily passed Senate Bill 1433, a statutory measure asserting that human life begins at conception.

State Sen. Brian Crain of Tulsa shepherded the measure through the upper chamber, where it cleared 34-8 on Wednesday (February 15). After the vote, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, he said, “With this bill, Oklahoma law will follow what Missouri has done for the last 23 years. It will not stop stem cell research. It will not prohibit birth control. It does make a very simple, yet profound statement that life begins at conception.

“We live in a society that all too often encourages us to think about ourselves, regardless of the ramifications for others. Those of us who consider ourselves pro-life need to be constant and consistent in advocating for the life of the unborn.”

Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman of Sapulpa applauded his colleagues’ action, commenting, "With this vote the Senate made a loud and clear statement — we believe life begins at conception. We believe in protecting the unborn. Oklahoma is a conservative pro-life state — we are proud to stand up for what we know is right. This bill is one of many Senate Republicans have advanced which affirms the right to life and I am proud to support it."

After the vote, the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice (Martha Skeeters, president) condemned the bill. In a statement delivered to CapitolBeatOK, the group said, “In passing such an extreme bill …, the Senate has put the people of Oklahoma in harm’s way. This bill, defining a fertilized human egg or embryo as a ‘person’, and thus prohibiting abortion, will make any pregnant woman who miscarries a murder suspect. It will force a pregnant victim of rape or incest to give birth to the predator’s child.

“Couples who wish to start a family using in vitro fertilization will be out of luck in Oklahoma, since no doctor will risk charges of murder to practice this advanced medicine. Couples who wish to postpone a family will find it more difficult since this bill will make many contraceptives illegal.

“This government intrusion into the most private lives of Oklahomans is an attack on our basic freedoms under the constitution which we all hold dear. Not what we would hope from our state legislature! Our government should be focusing on jobs in the present economy rather than getting involved in our personal healthcare decisions. It is doubtful that any companies will want to move to Oklahoma when their management and employees and their children would be subject to a law like this. In addition to all its other problems, this is an anti-jobs bill. The Oklahoma State Senate has let the people of Oklahoma down in a big way.”

Taking a contrary view in virtually every particular was Oklahomans for Life. In a joint letter encouraging passage of the bill, Chairman Tony Lauinger and Vice Chairman Kevin Calvey wrote last week, “The Personhood Act is clearly constitutional. It is based on a Missouri law which was reviewed and allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1989 Webster decision.”

The measure does not reverse Roe v. Wade, the landmark and still controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision. Lauinger and Calvey contend the law “lays the foundation for legal protections for children in the womb to the fullest extent permitted under U.S. Supreme Court precedents. It would provide valuable evidence that Oklahoma has a compelling state interest in protecting children in the womb in court cases involving other pro-life laws, now and in the future.”

The pair stressed a similar provision “has been used in another state, where it has been law for 23 years, to provide remedies for injuries to children in the womb in contexts other than abortion, such as criminal and civil penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman. Like other states, Oklahoma is presently at loggerheads with a pro-abortion U.S. Supreme Court majority, and subject to the Supremacy Clause which gives that Court the final say over Oklahoma laws.”

While the Court is unlikely to allow the act to be a basis for banning abortion, per se, Lauinger and Calvey believe “that same Court is likely to uphold the Personhood Act for the purpose of expressing state values. It is the affirmation of the value of human life prior to birth that constitutes the most important reason for enacting S.B. 1433.”

While affirming the education and affirmational purpose of the law, Lauinger and Calvey wrote, “Contrary to unfounded claims by the abortion industry and its allies, the Personhood Act would not, itself, prohibit birth control, in vitro fertilization, or abortion. The Personhood Act has no penalty or enforcement mechanism. Missouri’s virtually-identical, two-decades-old law has resulted in none of the occurrences conjured up by critics of SB 1433. Roe v. Wade and its pro-abortion progeny are, tragically, still the law of the land.”

Dr. Eli Reshef, an Oklahoma City physician, spoke frequently against the measure in the past two weeks. Reshef agrees with analysts who say the measure would outlaw certain contraceptives, such as the “morning-after” pill, intrauterine device (IUD) and “perhaps event other hormonal contraceptives.” He also believes the bill could ban in-vitro fertilization.

In comments shared with CapitolBeatOK, he contended “Personhood legislation is inherently anti-reproduction, and anti-family.Personhood proposals are profoundly anti-life, not ‘pro-life’ as its advocates pretend.”

The laws, Dr. Reshef says, “will have unintended legal consequences: pregnant women will become a separate class, less protected by law than men or non-pregnant women. Coroners, police officers, and prosecutors might be obliged, pressured, or inspired to investigate or prosecute any miscarriage deemed suspicious. A woman suspected of inducing a miscarriage (or attempting to do so) could be subject to criminal prosecution, as could others suspected of helping her in the act.”

The proposed law now heads to the state House of Representatives.