Officials with Personhood Oklahoma now have 90 days to gather signatures from about 155,000 registered Oklahoma voters. If successful, they hope to have a question on the state ballot in November that defines a human being “from the beginning of the biological development of that human being to natural death.”
“We really feel like the debate has changed from regulating legal abortion to actually protecting the unborn as persons, (with) full constitutional rights affirmed just like we all enjoy,” said Dan Skirbitz, an accountant from Tulsa and the director of Personhood Oklahoma.
“What it does is protect every human life, and we want the medical community, the universities, the research laboratories to be put on notice that they do not have free reign over human life. Human life is to be protected at whatever stage and wherever that human life is.”
Similar proposals were defeated last year in Mississippi and Colorado, but the national anti-abortion group Personhood USA is pushing ballot measures in a dozen other states.
Skirbitz said the bill would outlaw abortions and certain forms of birth control that would prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. He also acknowledged that a goal of the amendment is to set up a legal challenge to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 that women have a legal right to abortion.
The Oklahoma Senate already has passed a bill this year to grant personhood status to an embryo, but the author of that bill said the measure would not outlaw abortions or birth control. Tulsa Republican Sen. Brian Crain said his bill is designed only to send a message that Oklahomans believe life begins at conception.
Both the ballot initiative and Crain’s bill are opposed by many doctors who contend the proposals could threaten the practice of reproductive medicine in Oklahoma.
“I find it ironic that these kinds of measures are being put forth by a Republican-dominated legislative branch that says they’re more interested in less government intrusion in our lives,” said Dr. Carl Hansen, a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, “and in fact what they’re doing is providing the most intrusive types of measures and laws that we’ve ever seen here in this state.”
With a GOP governor now in office, the Oklahoma Legislature has been pushing some of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country. A new law restricting the use of abortion inducing drugs and another requiring a pregnant woman to have an ultrasound performed before an abortion both have been placed on hold pending separate legal challenges.
Another bill that would force abortion providers to make the fetal heartbeat of the unborn child audible for a pregnant woman to hear is being considered this year.
Several hundred protesters gathered at the Capitol earlier this week to protest Crain’s personhood bill that is pending consideration in the House.
“The proposed ballot question with regard to personhood is the culmination of a consistent and steady attack on the reproductive health of Oklahoma’s women and their families,” said Ryan Kiesel, a former Democratic lawmaker and now the director of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “And it’s the continuation of a political strategy to put politics in the doctor’s office and to take medical decisions out of the hands of a woman, her doctor and her family.”