The first bill of the session passed by the Oklahoma Senate was an anti-abortion statement that life begins at the moment of conception, approved by senators Wednesday after two hours of debate.
The practical effect of the bill is open to question. Its author, Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said it's merely a statement that Oklahoma is “pro-life.” He labeled as fear mongering contentions by opponents that it could lead to restrictions on abortions, birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research.
The Personhood Act, Senate Bill 1433, received international attention in the wake of a proposed amendment from Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Holdenville. The amendment said it was an act against unborn children for men to waste sperm.
“A lot of people thought that I was being facetious with my amendment in committee, and it was humorous and it has gotten international response,” Johnson said to her fellow senators.
“But I was serious as a heart attack. It wasn't until I used the biological and scientific references to those functions that somebody heard it. Maybe nobody in this chamber gets it but somebody heard that all we're asking for is for this conversation to include both individuals that are necessary to bring life about.”
Johnson, whose amendment was tabled, said she is sick of legislation that pries into the private lives of women with no mention of the men who are co-actors in the process of conception.
The bill passed 34-8 with several Democrats voting in favor.
Crain defended the bill he authored as a necessary step toward protecting Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, unborn children.
“The unborn have no voice of their own. We must be the voice of the unborn,” Crain said. “It will take us to the very limit of what the United States Supreme Court has deemed to be constitutional.”
He said the bill was a lobbyist request from the group Oklahomans for Life, but he would not name people who had sought the bill.
Oklahoma already has some of the strictest regulations on the books when it comes to abortions. Only three clinics in the state perform abortions, and the abortion rate in Oklahoma is lower than the national average, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2008, about 10 out of every 1,000 women had an abortion in Oklahoma, lower than the national average of almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women.
“What would I do in the situation where one of my daughters found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy?” Crain said. “I would hope that my children would say, ‘Dad, I choose life. ... I would like to raise this child or I can't raise this child but I would like to bring this child into the world and then that child could be adopted.'”
Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, made a plea for the men of the Senate not to take that choice away from women.
“We say we're pro-life out here, but we don't do anything to limit pregnancies,” Wilson said. “We could do medically accurate sex education, but we choose not to do that. We could make birth control more available, but we choose not to do that.”
The bill, now headed to the House, is one of several the Legislature will consider that deals with abortion. SB 1274 requires that women listen to the heartbeat of a fetus before having an abortion.
House Joint Resolution 1067 would make the personhood issue a vote of the people.