OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma House panel approved legislation Tuesday to require abortion providers to notify women whose fetuses have fatal conditions that perinatal hospice services are available as an alternative to an abortion.
The measure, passed 7-2 by the House Public Health Committee, extends informed consent requirements for women considering an abortion that have been approved by lawmakers in previous years, said the bill's author, Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond.
By a 6-3 vote, the committee also passed legislation that bans embryonic stem cell research in the state by outlawing scientific research that destroys a human embryo.
The state already requires counseling prior to an abortion as well as parental notification and consent for a minor seeking an abortion. In December 2012, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down an informed consent law that required providers to perform an ultrasound and describe the fetus before proceeding with an abortion.
Grau said his bill addresses the "heartbreaking scenario" of a family whose unborn child is diagnosed with a condition that will result in death within hours or days of birth. He held up a photograph of an infant diagnosed with a fatal anomaly whose parents chose to carry to birth. The child lived for 10 days, Grau said.
"Ten days is not long," Grau said. But he said it was long enough for the child, whose parents were pictured cradling him.
Perinatal hospice services can include obstetricians, neonatologists, psychiatrists and specialty nurses.
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said Grau's bill seemed like a good idea but suggested that lawmakers study the proposal before enacting it to allow more time for doctors and other health professionals to provide their input.
"Families faced with these decisions are horrified," McDaniel said. She said organizations like Parents Responding to Infant Death Experience offer emotional support and information to parents who experience the death of an infant.
Grau said there is no perinatal hospice program In Oklahoma but they are operated by hospitals and clinics in neighboring states, including Arkansas, Kansas and Texas.
The stem cell bill by Rep. Dan Fisher, R-El Reno, makes it a felony for a person to "knowingly conduct nontherapeutic research that destroys a human embryo or subjects a human embryo to substantial risk of injury or death." Violations are punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Fisher said he believes that life begins at conception and that an embryo is a person.
"The purpose of the bill is to recognize that embryos have personhood," Fisher said. He said the bill would not interfere with ongoing adult stem cell research projects.
But some lawmakers questioned whether the bill might have a chilling effect on stem cell research in the state. Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, said the state has already placed restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.
"We're talking about a problem that isn't a problem," said Cox, a physician. Cox also said banning a form of scientific research could create problems as new medical treatments emerge.
"Medicine and science change rapidly. We have to be able to deal with changes," he said.
Both measures now go to the House floor for debate and a vote.
House Bill 2685: http://bit.ly/Lwfnwt
House Bill 2070 http://bit.ly/MYEp9c