OK, Oklahoma: Press on for personhood

Special guest commentary by Jeff McLain

Before this week, I bet few of us knew much about Charles Bradford “Brad” Henry, the governor of Oklahoma (no offense, Governor); but on Monday, he made inroads for the pro-life community. In 2002, Henry became the 26th governor of the state of Oklahoma. Now in his second term, he easily defeated his Republican challenger, U.S. Representative Ernest Istook, in 2006 with 66 percent of the vote.

It came as a surprise for many that Governor Henry recently signed three bills into law that can be referred to as anti-abortion bills, especially since in 2008, he vetoed a measure that would have required women to receive an ultrasound before having an abortion. However, I was happy to see his signature send these three bills into immediate effect.

The first of the three bills is Senate Bill 1890, which outlaws abortions based on the sex of the baby. It also puts pressure on the abortionist, with hefty fines should he “knowingly or recklessly perform” such an abortion. While I agree with the new law, I also realize that this is far from the main reason individuals have abortions and it only stops a few, if any. However, I do find encouragement in the fact that the legislators recognized if a “blob of tissue” can be male or female, it must be a live person. So why settle and only stop abortions that end a life based on gender? 
The second bill, Senate Bill 1891, creates a Freedom of Conscience Act that protects medical employees who refuse to take part in certain “activities” due to their religious beliefs or moral precepts. This could mean abortion, but it also covers in vitro treatments, experiments on human embryos and fetal tissue, and euthanasia. It does not, however, protect a doctor who refuses to prescribe contraceptives.

The third bill that was signed into effect was Senate Bill 1902, which allows the state to regulate the use of RU-486, or mifepristone, also known as the abortion drug. Unfortunately, the bill only moderates, regulates and records the use of the RU-486 pill—possibly limiting its use, but still allowing it to be prescribed by a licensed “physician.” 

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects is that each bill was declared “immediately necessary” and an emergency clause was written in so that it would go into effect as soon as it was signed. Here is the wording at the end of Senate Bill 1902:

SECTION 3.  It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.

Republican State Senator Todd Lamb, a sponsor of one of the bills, said the following about these new measures set into action:

These bills were each approved previously by the Legislature, but were prevented from taking effect due to a court ruling that they violated Oklahoma's Constitution regarding single-subjects for legislation. … We believed then and believe now these provisions reflect the values of our state, and have successfully reaffirmed them in the Senate as individual measures.

Even though Senator Lamb described these new laws as reflections of the values of Oklahomans, and they were overwhelmingly approved with bipartisan support, there is still opposition. Stephanie Totti of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights said the group was “disappointed,” but it would wait until the legislative session was over before deciding if it would challenge the new laws. That’s because four other anti-abortion bills are still up for debate, including House Bill 2780, which would require a woman to receive an ultrasound—a revision of the same bill the governor defeated in 2008. We must pray for both the people and the governor that they will open their hearts and minds to work for an abortion-free state. It is my hope that Oklahoma will become a state that recognizes the rights of human beings, born and preborn, and without exceptions.

So, will these new laws help? Tony Lauinger of Oklahomans for Life described them as “modest measures.” I agree. Abortion is still a decriminalized act in Oklahoma and, even though RU-486 use will be monitored and controlled, it can be administered with the same damaging effects it had before the law was signed. 

Let us press on then, not resting because an incremental anti-abortion solution comes into play. There may be small victories, but the journey is far from over. There are many more lives to educate, individuals to train and misconceptions to confront. In other states—Colorado, for example—the personhood initiative made it onto the November ballot.  And Mississippi personhood advocates just secured a place on the state’s 2011 ballot . If these initiatives pass, it will successfully change the face of the pro-life movement and recognize the human rights of all by law, ensuring the right to life from the moment of their biological beginning. Let us work together to help more states get personhood initiatives on the ballot and passed. Find out more about the personhood initiative at www.personhoodusa.com/. We need you to get involved. 

Jeff McLain is Rock for Life’s tour manager and head of artist development.