Pro-life group under fire from conservatives; Oklahoma House Speaker Steele claims tactics 'went too far'
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Friday, April 27, 2012
4/27/12 at 7:18 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - House Speaker Kris Steele on Thursday said Oklahomans for Life's tactics to get a personhood bill passed went too far.
On Tuesday, the organization joined the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma at a Capitol news conference. The meeting followed a decision of the House Republican Caucus not to hear Senate Bill 1433, which would have declared that "personhood" begins at conception.
The measure was not heard in the House.
Kevin Calvey, a former House member listed as Oklahomans for Life's vice chairman, said House members who did not cast procedural votes to advance the bill would have their votes deemed pro-abortion votes.
Steele, R-Shawnee, said, "I do think the tactic that was taken originally, with the, I don't know, threats, or at least the decision to base procedural votes as policy votes was too far."
Procedural votes are intended to maintain order and protect the organizational structure, he said, adding that they "are much different than actual policy votes, and I think they should be treated as such."
Oklahomans for Life subsequently changed its position on the scoring of votes.
In an email to lawmakers, Calvey said Oklahomans for Life Chairman Tony Lauinger asked him to inform members that the group would not be scoring procedural votes on SB 1433.
In a Wednesday email to Calvey, House Speaker Designate T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, wrote that Calvey had "not only disrespected this institution, but you have also demonstrated an utter lack of professionalism and integrity. Your credibility has been damaged to the point that I respectfully request that you do not lobby my office, and you remove me from your correspondence list."
Shannon confirmed Wednesday that he sent the email but would not comment further, saying it was an internal caucus matter that he would not discuss but that he stood by his email.
Calvey referred questions about the issue to Lauinger, who did not respond to three phone calls and an email seeking comment.
Steele said, "I think you would be hard-pressed to find another state that is more pro-life, another legislature that is more passionate about protecting the unborn than the Oklahoma Legislature."
He said he didn't think the dustup would affect future relations with the organization and called Lauinger a friend whom he respects and who is professional.
"We didn't agree with the process, the tactic, but that is not going to get in the way of us continuing to work with an organization that promotes pro-life initiatives," Steele said.
Late Thursday, Lauinger sent House Republican members a letter of apology.
"In our zeal to pass Senate Bill 1433, we reached the point this week where our efforts became counterproductive, and for that, I sincerely apologize," he wrote.
"The intent was to try to trigger a decision to reconsider and allow the bill to be heard as originally anticipated, but we exercised poor judgment."
Meanwhile, Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said she is glad that the House killed the measure because, had it been passed and enforced, it would have outlawed common forms of birth control and threatened fertility treatments.
"This showed the radical nature of the pro-life movement," said Skeeters, who is challenging an initiative-petition effort to get the personhood issue on the November ballot.
Original Print Headline: Pro-life group under fire from conservatives
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
House Speaker Kris Steele: "I do think the tactic that was taken originally, with the, I don't know, threats ... was too far."