A measure that its authors said was intended to be just a statement that life begins at conception is dead. The bill escalated fears that it could lead to restrictions on abortions, birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research.
Members of the House Republican caucus privately voted Thursday that Senate Bill 1433 should not be given a hearing on the House floor, House Speaker Kris Steele said. Republicans have a 66-32 majority in the House of Representatives.
The deadline for the House to pass Senate-originated bills is April 26.
“This decision was not made unilaterally, but as a caucus collectively,” said Steele, R-Shawnee, who said he would have voted for the so-called personhood measure. “The fact is this bill sends a statement Oklahoma has already made. We're already perhaps the most pro-life state in this country, having passed at least 30 various pro-life measures in the past eight years alone.”
“In my estimation, it wasn't a close vote,” he said.
Bill's author is disappointed
Backers of SB 1433 said it is a statement that Oklahomans value life and that nothing in the measure would prohibit contraception or in vitro fertilization.
Sen. Brian Crain, the author of SB 1433, said he is disappointed with the House Republicans for not wanting to advance his bill.
Steele said House Republicans also voiced concern about possible litigation. A lawsuit was filed last month against an initiative petition drive to put a similar measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. That constitutional amendment would define a fertilized human egg as a human being and would ban abortions and outlaw certain forms of birth control.
Crain, R-Tulsa, said opponents to his bill became confused with his measure and proposals being advanced by a national group on personhood, which is supporting Oklahoma's initiative petition effort.
“They started mixing up one for the other and thought they were all the same,” he said. “There were some people that knew that this thing was constitutional; they just chose to not be completely open about what they thought this bill truly did.”
Crain said the bill is based on a law in Missouri, which was upheld in 1989 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Steele said he was concerned that SB 1433 omitted a section of the Missouri law that says the law shall be interpreted and construed subject to the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. He offered an amendment — one of 22 attached to the bill — that would have put the Missouri language in the bill.
Crain said that section was unnecessary because in Oklahoma all laws are subject to judicial review, both by the state and federal supreme courts.
“There's no sense putting that into our statute because we have judicial review of all of our statutes,” he said.
Rep. Lisa Billy, the House author of SB 1433, said she will continue to push for passage of a similar bill that the House passed last year. House Bill 1571 states that life begins at conception. It passed the House by a vote of 74-2 but failed to get a hearing last year in the Senate.
“It still sits in the Senate,” said Billy, R-Lindsay. “We're hoping it happens.”
But Crain said the personhood measure is dead this year.
“If the House doesn't want to hear (SB) 1433, I don't know why the House would want to hear the same thing with just a different bill number on it,” he said.
Crain, who faces opponents in the Republican primary election and the general election, said he would file a similar bill next year if he wins re-election.
Some House Republicans began a petition-signing effort Wednesday to try to force the bill to be heard on the House floor, but Steele said the movement did not comply with House rules. A discharge petition effort only can be held to get a measure heard that was not advanced by a House committee. It does not apply to bills that were passed out of committee and are waiting to be taken up on the House floor.
SB 1433 passed the Senate in February on a 34-7 vote. A House committee passed it last month on a 7-4 vote.
Issue has drawn attention
The personhood bill has drawn attention at the state Capitol and nationally. Hundreds gathered in February at the Capitol to protest the measure.
Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, held up a controversial sign at the protest saying what she would do if she wanted the government in her womb.
During Senate debate, Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, tried unsuccessfully to get an amendment to the measure that said it was an act against unborn children for men to waste sperm.