The Oklahoma Senate passed five abortion bills Monday night, which opponents have said will severely limit a woman's ability to get an abortion and would entail some of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country.
One of the bills would force a woman to get an ultrasound at least one hour prior to an abortion and be shown the image and given a detailed explanation of it, even if she wishes otherwise. A vaginal probe would be used if it would provide a clearer image of the fetus, which no other state requires; three others do require ultrasounds, but none force the woman to listen to an explanation of it.
State Sen. Anthony Sykes (R-Moore), the bill's sponsor, said the measure was designed to provide women with additional information before having an abortion.
Other pieces of legislation also require clinics that perform abortions to post signs stating it's "against the law for anyone ... to force you to have an abortion," forbid state exchange program insurance from covering abortions and prevent wrongful life and wrongful birth lawsuits.
One last bill would require the woman to first answer a lengthy questionnaire and provide information such as her age, marital status, race, education and reason for seeking an abortion. The doctor would then report this information - without the patient's name attached, however - which would be compiled and put on a state web site and accessible only by certain government personnel.
The bill's sponsor has said this would provide valuable information on who seeks abortions and why, in addition to helping create programs aimed at preventing abortions. Opponents of the bill, however, argue that this represents an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.
Jordan Goldberg, state advocacy council for the Center of Reproductive Rights (CRR), says she does not consider it "appropriate to use medical appointments and doctor-patient relationship to do fact-finding research gathering project at the expense of patient privacy."
A letter to Gov. Brad Henry (D-Oklahoma) issued by the CRR arguing unconstitutionality of the bill stated, "nothing in the Constitution or the case law allows states to require women to justify their constitutionally protected decision to terminate a pregnancy."
After debate in the state senate that spanned most of Monday, all five bills passed with large majorities, three of which passed 35-11. The three bills on ultrasounds, clinic signs and wrongful-life suits will go to the governor's desk, while the other two on information reporting and state insurance exchange will return to the House.
The Oklahoma legislature has attempted to make such abortion bills the law before. In 2008, it passed a measure that required women to get an ultrasound and hear a detailed description of it prior to having an abortion. This overrode a veto from Governor Henry, which he made on the grounds that there were no exceptions for rape or incest victims.
However, following a challenge from the CRR in 2009, an Oklahoma State District Court ruled that the law addressed too many topics and violated the state constitution's "single-subject" requirement. For the same reason, in February, another challenged law was struck down; it included a provision requiring a woman seeking an abortion to provide personal information regarding her situation and reasons for seeking an abortion.
Goldberg said that the CRR is still "weighing its options" regarding possible legal action.
Several Republican state senators said they were pleased the five abortion bills had been passed with bipartisan support.
"Senate Republicans continue to fight for life of the unborn, and we saw members from both parties join together in supporting this great cause," said Glenn Coffee (R-Oklahoma City), the state senate president pro tempore, in a statement. "Oklahomans have consistently voted and called for measures like these, and today we have held true to Oklahoma values."
Opponents focused on the role of the government and the problems they said would arise from the bills.
"The Legislature and the Senate are acting like an amateur gynecologist," State Sen. Jim Wilson (D-Tahlequah) said in an interview <http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20100420_16_A1_OKLAHO444183&archive=yes>. "This is not about abortion. This is about the Bible."
"These bills are trying to prevent women in Oklahoma from access to health care and making it more difficult for physicians to provide that care," Goldberg said. "They disregard patient privacy and medical standards and are a poor public health policy."