Oklahoma's 'Personhood' bill put on ice after vote by House Republican Caucus
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Friday, April 20, 2012
4/20/12 at 8:58 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Senate Bill 1433 - the controversial "personhood" bill - won't be heard by the state House, Speaker Kris Steele announced Thursday.
The House Republican Caucus voted not to take up the measure this year, Steele told a state Capitol press conference.
"This decision was not made unilaterally but as a caucus collectively," Steele said. "I accept the will of our caucus."
The personhood bill would bestow "all the rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state" on "unborn children ... from the moment of conception until birth at every stage of biological development."
No one should interpret the Republican Caucus decision as a sign of weakness on abortion issues, Steele said.
"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," Steele said. "You will not find a bigger friend of the unborn than this Legislature, but this bill would not have any substantive policy effect."
Even if the House doesn't take up the personhood bill, the issue remains alive. In March, Personhood Oklahoma has announced a petition drive to put a similar proposal before voters as a state constitutional amendment in November.
Although supporters of the personhood bill claimed that legislative leaders were holding up the bill, Steele said he was ready to vote for it if the caucus had decided to move ahead with the proposal.
Steele had proposed an amendment that would have acknowledged that the law would be subject to the constitutional decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. If that amendment had passed, Steele said he would have voted for the bill.
Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, said there was no caucus vote on whether to consider the bill. Rather, caucus whips talked to members about their preferences, so there is no record of who wanted to go which way on the measure, he said.
He said the announcement that the Republican caucus had decided not to take up personhood was "stunning and unbelievable" because a pro-life agenda is an important part of the caucus agenda and the Republican Party state platform.
Members are not supposed to discuss what happens in caucuses, but Steele first breached that rule by discussing the results of the caucus meeting, Terrill said.
Steele said: "The whip system was used to determine the caucus position on the matter, which is a standard procedure used frequently during session."
He added that there is no doubt that the GOP caucus is pushing a pro-life agenda.
"We've advanced substantive pro-life policies this year and in years past and will continue to move a pro-life agenda forward for as long as Roe v. Wade stands," Steele said. As an example, he pointed to a fetal heartbeat measure passed by the House on Thursday on a 75-12 vote.
That bill - which now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin's desk - requires doctors to allow women seeking abortions to listen to the heartbeats of the fetuses.
"Thanks to advances in modern medicine, we've gone from the days when people claimed a baby was 'just a clump of cells' to being able to see the truly astounding process of development in the womb," said Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa. "This legislation simply ensures that a woman is given the opportunity to assess that information. Our laws should not be stuck in the 1950s when it comes to medical issues."
Peterson is the House author of the bill.
Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, said requiring doctors to offer the opportunity to hear a fetal heartbeat can make a big difference in the decisions of women considering abortions.
"It changes things. It changes their minds. Suddenly, they realize that they are mothers right now," Hamilton said.
But opponents of the proposal pointed out that it largely duplicates existing law while undoing lawsuit reform efforts.
Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, said the previously passed fetal ultrasound law has stronger requirements that are more likely to give women considering abortions full knowledge of the situation.
"Can we beat a beat dead horse out here or what on this abortion issue?" Cox asked.
"It's already in law. We've got better law on the books. This is a terrible law," he said.
When he came to the Legislature, Cox, a physician, said he considered himself pro-life, but measures such as the fetal heartbeat bill - which he said interferes in the doctor-patient relationship and encourages frivolous lawsuits against physicians - have about pushed him toward the other side.
The only new element of the proposal is one that puts doctors at risk of frivolous lawsuits from people outside the examination room on the supposition that the doctor didn't offer the woman a chance to hear the fetal heartbeat, he said.
"What should we do with this bill?" Cox asked House members, and then he tore the proposal in two and let the pieces float to the ground.
Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, argued that the three doctors in the state who currently provide abortions are already doing everything required by the proposal.
Original Print Headline: 'Personhood' bill put on hold
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Kris Steele: The House speaker's spokesman says the house won't hear the controversial "personhood" bill this year.