Something unexpected happened in the Oklahoma Legislature on February 8 that had Karo Chowning feeling pretty optimistic. That morning lawmakers in the House Public Health Committee blocked one anti-abortion bill and a second was tabled without discussion.
It was certainly unusual for a deeply conservative Republican government that over the years has distinguished itself by passing some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country — regardless of whether those measures are unconstitutional, which many certainly are. Since 2011, lawmakers in Oklahoma have passed 20 such measures, a number of which have been blocked by the courts or are tied up in litigation.
If passed as written, the two measures that were slated for consideration on February 8 would almost certainly end up in court as well.
So when the two bills on the meeting agenda didn’t sail out of committee, Chowning, past-president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, was pleased. Just the day before she’d walked the Capitol corridors hoping to get face time with as many of the members of the committee as possible, and in particular with its sizable contingent of freshmen, in an effort to convince them they should vote down the two measures.
The first, Rep. George Faught’s House Bill 1549, was returning for a second year. Under the measure a woman would be blocked from aborting a fetus because it has — or is suspected of having — a genetic abnormality, regardless of how early she sought termination. Although the measure made it out of the House in 2016 it languished in the Senate.
The bill was taking a complicated and personal issue and turning it into a cut-and-dry measure that in part seemed intended to pit disability activists and reproductive rights advocates against each other, Clowning thought.
But to Clowning and other members of the Coalition it was the second bill, HB 1441, that was even more disturbing, devoid of any nuance, and completely unconstitutional. Written by another of the chamber’s freshmen, Rep. Justin Humphrey, the legislation would require a woman seeking an abortion to first obtain written permission from her sexual partner. It would also require her to provide his name to her doctor and would forestall the procedure if the man wanted the opportunity to challenge paternity.