News Column

Abortion Measures Multiply in Oklahoma Legislature

July 1, 2013

Abortion continues to be an emotional issue in Oklahoma as the GOP-controlled Legislature puts it at the forefront of its agenda.

Last week, Texas made national headlines after a hotly debated bill clamping down on abortion failed to secure approval by deadline following a filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

The measure would have banned abortion after 20 weeks, required abortion clinics to become ambulatory surgical centers and required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles. The measure would have closed most abortion facilities in Texas.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature back into session to reconsider the measure, which is expected to pass.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court announced last week it would review an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that found unconstitutional a law putting restrictions on medical abortions induced by drugs as opposed to surgery.

Since Republicans took control of both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature, measures clamping down on abortion have become common. Prior to GOP control, the Senate killed or refused to hear many abortion bills.

Some recent measures have been tossed out by courts.

With the GOP expected to retain control for some time, abortion will continue to be an issue in Oklahoma.

Two years ago, the Legislature passed and Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks, based on the assertion that a fetus can feel pain.

Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, was the Senate author of that bill.

"If the brain is developed enough it can sense pain and feel the sensation of limbs being ripped off before they have been killed. That is something that should not be done because that is a life, something we hold dear," Jolley said.

Jolley said he doesn't think the measure will have a huge impact because most abortions are performed before 20 weeks.

He said if a candidate is not solidly pro-life in Oklahoma, he or she will not win many elections, with a few exceptions in solidly Democratic districts. But even in many Democratic districts, a candidate still must be pro-life to secure approval, Jolley said.

Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor, doesn't believe the issue is of paramount importance to the general public. Most voters have already made up their mind on abortion, he said.

Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, two years ago carried a measure that would have declared "personhood" at conception. The measure failed to get a hearing in the House.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court stopped an effort to put the measure before state voters.

"Up until the (former Gov. Brad) Henry administration, no pro-life bills were heard in the state Senate," Crain said. "While other states were addressing the issue of pro-life and how to regulate abortion procedures, nothing like that was being done in Oklahoma. A lot of what was going on with the state in the years I have been in the Legislature has been enacting legislation that has been in other states for years."

Former Sen. Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, served in the House and Senate and became leader of the Senate before leaving because of term limits.

He said Democrats were not of the mind to purposely pass bills they knew were unconstitutional. Hobson, a real estate developer, believes some lawmakers pursue abortion bills knowing full well they will run afoul of a legal challenge, but that they don't care.

Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Forest Park, is one of the more vocal critics of measures putting restrictions on abortion.

She said it is an effort by supporters to disregard a woman's right to make a medical decision and keep women oppressed.

Rep. Jeanie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said abortion is not something her constituents express a lot of concern about. They are more interested in jobs, the economy and health care, she said.

Supporters of laws putting more regulations on abortion are getting more aggressive, she said.

"To me, it impedes a woman's right to take care of her own health," she said.

The issue is so controversial that some who perform abortions in Oklahoma refuse to talk about it.

Reproductive Services in Tulsa did not respond to two phone calls from the Tulsa World. The organization in the past has filed lawsuits successfully challenging some abortion measures.

Meanwhile, the number of abortions in Oklahoma is on the decline.

In 2002, there were 6,215 abortions in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. That figure dropped to 4,840 in 2011.

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Source: (c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services