A bill banning abortions after 20 weeks that was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mary Fallin is unconstitutional, an attorney with a New York group that has successfully challenged previous Oklahoma anti-abortion laws said.
Fallin defended the measure. She also signed into law a bill that would prevent health insurance policies sold in the state from covering elective abortions.
“I stand behind our Legislature,” she said. “If it gets challenged, so be it.”
House Bill 1888 would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Oklahoma is the third state to restrict abortions on the basis of fetal pain. Nebraska passed an identical measure last year; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last week signed a measure that bans abortion after 21 weeks.
Abortions now are allowed up to 24 weeks. After that, they can be provided only because of serious health issues.
Jordan Goldberg, Center for Reproductive Rights states advocacy counsel, said the measure is unconstitutional but withheld comment whether her group would file a legal challenge. She said both measures are under review.
The center has a pending lawsuit challenging legislation passed last year that requires women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds. It succeeded in overturning a similar proposal in 2009.
“It's clear that the people proposing all of these different bills would like to make abortion if not illegal than inaccessible to most women,” she said.
“Certainly they're chipping away at the rights and access at any way that they can. They're going to try to do that, but we're not necessarily going to let them get away with that. Each of these bills will be looked at on their own merits, and we will certainly consider litigation when we need to.”
HB 1888 also requires abortion providers to determine fetal age before an abortion. The bill exempts situations in which the life of the mother is at risk or when the mother faces “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment.”
“This bill has truly caught up with medical science,” said Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, author of HB 1888.
“We have the medical evidence that these 20-week-old fetuses ... have all the neurons and neuron transmitters to be able to feel pain. If an unborn child is capable of feeling pain, this is a matter of human compassion.”
Goldberg called the measure bad policy.
“It puts the Legislature between a woman and her doctor at a time when women really need all the information and need to be able to make medical decisions that are right for them and their families,” she said. “It ignores women's individual circumstances, and basically it is the Legislature deciding that they make better decisions for women than they do themselves.”
Fallin also signed Senate Bill 547, which ensures that standard health insurance policies sold in Oklahoma do not include elective abortion coverage. Under the bill, those who want abortion coverage could do so by buying optional supplemental coverage with a separate premium.
“We will show the rest of the nation that life is sacred to our state,” Fallin said during a bill-signing ceremony. “These two pieces of legislation will go a long way in helping us protect the lives of the unborn.”
Goldberg said SB 547, similar to laws passed by at least five other states, basically will make abortion coverage impossible to get in Oklahoma.
“These (insurance) riders are not available,” she said. “It essentially bans insurance coverage for abortions.”
Nearly 50 legislators, mostly Republican, as is Fallin, stood behind the governor when she signed both measures that were easily approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate. Both bills take effect Nov. 1.
“It's wonderful to have a governor that actually signs pro-life bills,” said Peterson, referring to former Democratic Gov. Brad Henry who vetoed four anti-abortion measures last year.
100th day in office
Fallin, elected last year, used her 100th day as governor to sign the anti-abortion bills.
“I ... have a deep commitment to doing everything that I can to preserve the life of the unborn,” she said. “I believe that life begins at conception and that life is very sacred. I believe that God has given each one of us the responsibility to do what we can do to protect life, especially those lives of the unborn.”
Tony Lauinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life, complimented lawmakers who supported the legislation and Fallin, saying there have been 53 million abortions since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
“But amidst this culture of death, our elected officials in Oklahoma have been building a culture of life,” he said.
“They recognize that a civilized society should not dismember babies who are demonstrably capable of feeling pain.
“Our society will be one day be judged on how we have treated the least among us, those at the margins of life,” Lauinger said. “We are deeply grateful to our governor and our legislators for their wisdom, their humanity and their faithfulness to these innocent children waiting to be born.”