Protest kills personhood bill
report on a defeat for anti-choice fetal "personhood" legislation in Oklahoma.
IN A stunning victory for supporters of a women's right to choose abortion, a proposed "personhood" bill in Oklahoma that would have given embryos the same rights as human beings fizzled out in the state legislature.
The bill sailed through the state Senate in a 34-8 vote in February, and supporters expected it to pass the House just as easily. But with public outcry growing against the anti-woman bill, the legislation died without even coming to a vote on the floor, when the House Republican Caucus voted April 19 not to hear the bill.
The bill, known as SB 1433, would have defined life as beginning at "the moment of conception" and granted all the rights of a citizen to unborn fetuses at any stage of development. The bill provided no exception for cases of rape or incest.
While some supporters of the bill claimed it wasn't intended to infringe on women's right to choose abortion, the bill was an obvious attempt to do just that. "It's about life, and people are guaranteed the right to life," said Republican Rep. Mike Reynolds, who authored the House resolution. "Ultimately, the goal is to understand that life begins at conception, and then they would never have a desire to abort again."
SB 1433, like similar "personhood" initiatives proposed in other states, are designed to provoke legal challenges and ultimately provide a vehicle for the religious right to attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. In addition, personhood bills significantly curb women's access to birth control and fertility treatments.
The Oklahoma bill was in many ways a copy of a "personhood" law enacted in Missouri in 1986, one of the country's first measures of this kind.
But there was an important difference. While the Missouri law explicitly states that the rights of unborn children are "subject to the Constitution of the United States, and decisional interpretations thereof by the United States Supreme Court," the Oklahoma bill did not. This brought the Oklahoma legislation into direct conflict with Roe v. Wade, setting the stage for a Supreme Court challenge.
Missouri is the only state so far to have a "personhood" law on its books, though others have tried to follow the anti-choice example. But in several places, the drive to pass anti-women measures is inspiring protest.
In November, a ballot measure in Mississippi--backed by Republicans and Democrats--that would have enacted a "personhood" amendment to the state constitution lost the vote by a wide margin. Ordinary conservative Mississippi voters showed the backers of "personhood" that they had gone too far.
In February, the Virginia legislature was forced to put a similar proposal on hold until next year after it sparked public outrage, including demonstrations of hundreds of people who surrounded the state Capitol.
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BACKERS OF the Oklahoma bill reacted with surprise and indignation at the House Republican Caucus' decision. Paleo-conservative bigot Rep. Randy Terrill complained that House Speaker Kris Steele "threw the caucus under the bus."
In addition to backing the personhood bill, Terrill is unsurprisingly a leading architect of a host of nauseating legislation--from banning state services from using Spanish to pushing an anti-evolution agenda in the state education system.
The Oklahoma personhood bill inspired outrage--and protest--which made the decisive difference in killing the bill last week. In February, Oklahoma saw one of the largest demonstrations for women's rights ever in its history. The angry protest--with pro-choice forces vastly outnumbering the anti-choicers who had also gathered--even spurred some state Republican representatives to spontaneously switch party affiliation due to disgust over the push for the personhood bill.
This outrageous move by the right to attack women's right to make their own decisions about their health has awoken an angry fire among women and their allies in this otherwise staunchly conservative state. A new movement is being born in Oklahoma to defend women's reproductive rights, and now that we've experienced victory, our hopes are raised that we can defeat the right wing's assault.
Another rally is planned for April 28 at the state Capitol, and now that the "personhood bill" is dead, this will be a victory celebration. But we aren't going to let our guard down. There are surely more attacks on women's reproductive rights on the horizon. For instance, the right-wing group Personhood Oklahoma is already working on a petition to get the question of "personhood" included on the November ballot.
The right seems determined to revive the "personhood" issue in Oklahoma, but when they do, they will now face fierce opposition. Activists are coming together to build upon this recent victory and push back the anti-women, anti-choice attack.