An attempt will be made to override the governor’s vetoes of two anti-abortion measures, including one that would have required women to hear a description of an ultrasound examination before an abortion could be performed, House Speaker Chris Benge said Friday. Gov. Brad Henry on Friday vetoed House Bill 2780, the ultrasound measure, and House Bill 2656, which would have banned lawsuits that claim a baby was better off aborted. HB 2780 was included in a measure that Henry vetoed in 2008. Legislators overrode that veto — the first and only time that’s occurred since the Democratic governor took office in 2003. It will require more lawmakers to override this year’s vetoes. A two-thirds majority was needed in each chamber to override the 2008 veto. Because both HB 2780 and HB 2656 contained clauses that would have made them take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, it will take a three-fourths majority in each chamber to override either veto. In the House, that means 76 votes in the 101-member chamber, while 36 votes are needed in the 48-member Senate. Both measures won at least 90 percent approval in the House. HB 2780 passed 87-7, and HB 2656 passed 94-4. In the Senate, both measures passed 35-11. HB 2780 is similar to a measure that was part of a bill that won legislative approval in 2008. The state Supreme Court last month upheld an Oklahoma County judge’s decision that it violated a requirement in the Oklahoma Constitution that legislation deal with a single subject. Lawmakers responded this session by filing individual bills. Henry said HB 2780 had numerous flaws and would ultimately result in another expensive and possibly futile legal battle for the state. The bill was an unconstitutional attempt "to insert government into the private lives and decisions of its citizens,” Henry said. "State policymakers should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will, especially when such a procedure could cause physical or mental trauma.” The governor said he also was concerned the measure lacked an exemption for rape and incest victims. "By forcing the victims of such horrific acts to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the procedure after they have faced the unspeakable trauma of rape or incest, the state victimizes the victim for a second time,” Henry said. "It would be unconscionable to subject rape and incest victims to such treatment.” Benge, R-Tulsa, said he was disappointed with the Democratic governor’s vetoes of the Republican-backed bills. "We will not give up our efforts to protect the unborn and will make an attempt to override these vetoes,” he said. "This issue is not about Democrats and Republicans or left versus right — it’s about doing what’s right, which is why these bills have received strong bipartisan support.” Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life, said he hopes legislators attempt to override both vetoes. "We are very disappointed that the governor vetoed this life-affirming legislation,” Lauinger said. "The ultrasound bill would provide important information to a woman that would allow her to give truly informed consent prior to an abortion.” Lauinger disagreed with the governor that the measure should have exempted rape and incest victims. "It is just as important for a woman who may be pregnant as a result of rape or incest to have the benefit of full and complete information in advance of undertaking the irrevocable and lethal act of taking the life of her child as it would be for any other woman,” he said Because both measures were House bills, a veto override attempt would have to start in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a 63-39 advantage. If the override is successful, then the Senate, where Republicans have a 26-22 majority, will take up the matter. Henry did sign HB 3075, which requires abortion providers to post signs indicating that a woman could not be forced to have an abortion. It takes effect immediately. Rep. Lisa Billy, author of HB 2780, said ultrasounds already are conducted routinely just before an abortion, but those pictures and the information obtained from the ultrasound are not provided to women. "For women facing an unplanned pregnancy, there is often a sense of distress, panic and fear that can drive people to make hasty decisions without considering long-term consequences,” said Billy, R-Purcell. "This legislation will empower those expectant mothers by giving them as much information as possible — in advance — before they make an irrevocable, life-altering decision. "Women should have the choice to see that image, and to deny them that opportunity is baffling,” she said. Rep. Dan Sullivan, author of HB 2656, said his measure would have made it illegal to sue a doctor claiming "wrongful birth” because the doctor failed to convince the mother to abort a child. "This is a simple, noncontroversial bill that did not prevent lawsuits for wrongful actions that actually harm a child, and it received broad bipartisan support,” said Sullivan, R-Tulsa. "To argue that a child would be better off dead than given a chance at life is a gross perversion of our justice system and should never be a legitimate basis for suing a doctor.” The New York abortion rights group that filed a lawsuit over the 2009 legislation applauded Henry’s vetoes Friday. "We are very pleased that Governor Henry vetoed these two extreme anti-abortion measures,” said Stephanie Toti, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead attorney on the earlier lawsuit. "Legislators have no business telling doctors how to practice medicine or making personal medical decisions for people. We strongly urge the Legislature to stand down and stay out of the doctor’s office.” Two other anti-abortion measures still are pending in the Legislature. HB 3284 would require women who are seeking an abortion to report information about themselves to be displayed statistically on a website run by the state Health Department. HB 3290 would ban state insurance exchanges created under the recently signed federal health care legislation from covering abortion procedures. Henry earlier this month signed measures that prevent women from getting abortions based on the gender of the fetus, require that only qualified physicians administer the RU-486 abortion pill and protect employees who refuse to participate in abortions.
State Agency Cancels Meeting
The Oklahoma Commission for Human Services has canceled Tuesday’s meeting on a proposed furlough plan. The commission’s budget committee reviewed some proposed cuts but decided to wait until the legislative appropriation process is further along before taking action, a news release states.
RANDY ELLIS, STAFF WRITER