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The Roundup

Personhood: Oklahoma’s Declaration of Independence

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Posted 04.25.12

Anti-abortion activists are livid after House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, announced that Oklahoma’s personhood legislation, SB 1433, which easily passed the Senate, would not be heard in the House. Steele said, in a statement: “The House Republican Caucus voted today not to hear the personhood bill on the House floor. … 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. You will not find a bigger friend of the unborn than this Legislature, but this bill would not have any substantive policy effect.”

Almost immediately, personhood advocates began demanding House Republicans bring the bill to the floor and calling for Steele’s ousting if he doesn’t. As a compromise, the House approved a non-binding resolution that grants personhood rights at “all stages of human development,” the Associated Press reported. The resolution “simply expresses the will of the Legislature and is not enforceable.”

The legislation’s backers have said SB 1433 is simply a statement that Oklahoma values life and won’t interfere with access to abortions, birth control, or in vitro fertilization. But a statement in the form of a resolution wasn’t enough, apparently. Kevin Calvey, vice president of Oklahomans for Life, called the resolution “a cop-out, not a compromise” and told The Oklahoman his group opposes it because “it doesn’t have the force of law.” Calvey also opposes language in the resolution that excludes babies conceived via in vitro fertilization from personhood rights.

The resolution’s author, Rep. Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City, quoted the Bible and cried as he asked House members to support his measure. “I’m telling you, this is our Declaration of Independence,” he said.

Personhood supporters are vowing to have their legislation heard on the house floor and to “label any lawmaker who refuses to support the move as ‘pro-abortion,’ ” according to the Associated Press. According to a press release from Personhood USA, the organization is asking Gov. Mary Fallin to “use her influence to dislodge the bill, request that it be sent to her desk for her signature, and affirm what has been scientifically evident for decades—human life, and therefore the right to life, begins at conception.” It doesn’t appear that will happen, though. From The Oklahoman:

“It is up to the Legislature to decide whether or not to hear this bill,” said Alex Weintz, Fallin’s spokesman. “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.”

In fact, as personhood supporters decried the House resolution, they “passed bills to further restrict the prescription of abortion-inducing drugs and to make it easier to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers,” the AP reported. “The drug bill heads to the governor’s desk, while the lawsuit bill returns to the House.”

Even if personhood supporters can’t force a vote by tomorrow’s deadline, they’re circulating a petition to put a similar measure before voters. That initiative is already being challenged in court, and critics of the legislation say it will lead to further legal fees for the state, as it’s almost guaranteed to be challenged if it passes.

Reuters reported earlier this month that Oklahoma’s personhood law could challenge Roe v. Wade because it doesn’t include “language acknowledging that it defers to the court and Constitution.”

Like other personhood measures, the Oklahoma bill has been controversial within the anti-abortion camp. The initiatives are designed to provoke legal challenges from abortion-rights supporters, with the ultimate goal of giving the Supreme Court a vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to Keith Mason, a leader of the movement.

Holly Wall, News Editor