The Oklahoma House’s Public Health Committee voted 7-4 for the Senate-passed measure and sent it to the full House, where it is also expected to pass. Following the vote, the head of an abortion-rights group said the measure will be challenged in court if it is signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.
“This is going to cost the taxpayers of Oklahoma money,” said Martha Skeeters, of Norman, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. About two dozen women from the group, many wearing pink shirts, listened to lawmakers debate the bill.
“This is really outrageous,” Skeeters said. “It’s very disturbing that the committee fails to realize how dangerous this bill is for Oklahoma women. It interferes with the treatment of pregnant women.”
Susan Plath Winston, of Norman, whose 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son were conceived through in vitro fertilization, became emotional following the committee hearing and said the techniques used to conceive her children would be banned under the law.
“I think this bill is anti-family and anti-life,” Winston said.
The committee’s vice chairman, Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, prevented opponents as well as supporters of the bill from addressing the committee.
The bill’s author, Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Lindsay, characterized the measure as “a statement of purpose that life begins at conception.” The bill provides embryos and fetuses “all the rights, privileges and immunities” of other citizens and says “unborn children have protectable interests in life, health and well-being.”
“It’s a value statement that we value that life,” Billy said. She said the bill is modeled after a 1986 Missouri law that the U.S. Supreme Court has said is constitutional.
Billy also said it would not interfere with any other state statutes involving contraception or assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization. But she inserted language not in the Senate version declaring it does not prevent birth control or in vitro fertilization as opponents claim.
“I felt like there were some legitimate concerns,” she said.
Committee members rejected amendments proposed by two lawmakers who opposed to the bill.
One by Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, one of only two physicians in the Legislature, clarified that the bill would not prevent the destruction of embryos during the in vitro fertilization process or the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, a potentially life-threatening complication of pregnancy.
The bill is opposed by the Oklahoma State Medical Association and some reproductive physicians have expressed concern that it could criminalize any mishandling of embryos.
Another amendment by Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, stated that nothing in the bill would prevent any medical procedure to protect the life of the mother. Billy said laws are already on the books to protect the life of the mother.
“It’s not something that would regulate abortion,” Billy said.
Cox, an emergency room physician at Integris Grove General Hospital, urged committee members to reject the bill.
“I’m still concerned about unintended consequences,” Cox said.
A petition drive is under way to put a similar measure on the November ballot. At least 22 states are pushing personhood measures.
The committee also voted 10-1 for a measure that would expand Oklahoma informed-consent laws regarding abortion.
The Heartbeat Informed Consent Act would require an abortion provider to provide a woman the option to listen to the fetal heartbeat prior to an abortion. The bill, also passed by the Senate, now goes to the House floor.