Pressure grows on Oklahoma House Republicans to take up personhood bill

The passage of a House resolution stating that life begins at conception did little to appease backers of a personhood bill. A national group, Personhood USA, is calling on Republican Gov. Mary Fallin to use her influence on lawmakers to get the bill heard on the House floor.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: April 25, 2012
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“The way it is drafted effectively wipes certain people out of the human race and that is unacceptable for pro-lifers to support,” Calvey said.

He said the resolution was “a cop-out, not a compromise.”

House Speaker Kris Steele said in a statement later that the resolution “affirmed again that the House is without question a pro-life body.”

More caucuses

Steele, R-Shawnee, said earlier that private polling of House Republican members during two closed caucus meetings the past several days showed they do not want SB 1433 heard on the House floor. Republican House members met again Tuesday afternoon for 45 minutes in a closed caucus meeting, apparently to discuss the issue.

Backers of SB 1433 say it is a statement that Oklahomans value life and that nothing in the measure would prohibit contraception or in vitro fertilization. Opponents say its passage could lead to restrictions on abortions, birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research as well as bring legal challenges.

For months, backers of SB 1433 have said the measure is based on a law in Missouri, which was upheld in 1989 by the U.S. Supreme Court. But Steele said last week 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.

HR 1054, by Rep. Steve Vaughan, is the same language contained in House Bill 1571, which Vaughan, R-Ponca City, authored last year. Vaughan said on the House floor Tuesday that the language was provided by Personhood USA.

HB 1571 passed the House 74-2 a year ago, but never got out of a Senate committee. No action was taken on the bill this year, meaning it is considered dead according to Senate rules.

“I believe life starts at conception,” said Vaughan, who cried during parts of his debate for the resolution.

Although the resolution does not have the force of law, it declares the official position of the House.

Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, a backer of SB 1433, urged House members to vote against HR 1054. Members were surprised by the measure, which was not on the calendar of possible measures to be taken up Tuesday. Rules had to be suspended in order for HR 1054 to be brought up and debated.

“I'm a little curious as to why we're voting on a resolution with this language when we have a bill out here that actually has teeth,” said Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City. “This resolution is a horrible mistake. ... Every one of us knows this resolution doesn't do a thing.”

Surprise move

The bringing up of HB 1054 on the House floor also caught offguard Christian leaders who showed up for a news conference to urge a public vote on SB 1433. The resolution was taken up just as the news conference was to start; Christian leaders instead went to the House gallery to watch the debate and then returned downstairs to talk to reporters about SB 1433.

“I'm here simply as a moral witness that we believe life begins at conception and this bill should be supported and it should have a hearing on the floor,” said the Rev. Stephen Hamilton, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Kingfisher, who was representing Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley.

Msgr. Patrick Gaalaas, pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church in Tulsa and representing Tulsa Bishop Edward Slattery, said passage of SB 1433 is not a matter of religion but a matter of justice.

“Life begins at conception is not a religious teaching; it's a teaching of science,” he said. “When we're talking about the beginning of human life, we're talking about personhood. I would very much like to see the House of Representatives vote on this bill and I'll be praying for that as I know thousands and thousands of other Oklahomans will also be praying for it.”

Slattery said in a telephone interview later that passage of the measure would give dignity to unborn children in the state.

“It's a step saying that we recognize the baby inside the womb is a person,” he said.

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It is up to the Legislature to decide whether or not to hear this bill. Regardless of their decision, the history of this Legislature is one of pro-life lawmaking. Oklahoma is one of the most pro-life states in the country, and Governor Fallin is proud of the state's record in protecting the lives of the unborn.”

Alex Weintz

Gov. Mary Fallin's spokesman

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