Introduced by Sen. Kim David, R-Wagoner, House Bill 2381 sets its sights on RU-486, also known as mifepristone, as well as any other drug or chemical used for abortion.
Mifepristone differs from over-the-counter forms of emergency contraception — so-called morning-after pills — that release hormones to delay ovulation and preempt pregnancy. RU-486 terminates an early pregnancy.
Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, the bill’s House author, said he put forth the legislation after being approached this winter by Oklahomans For Life, a Tulsa-based anti-abortion coalition. The group expressed “increased concern” after a similar measure outlawing “webcam abortions,” in which a doctor can administer mifepristone via digital means, was challenged in Oklahoma courts last year.
Cockroft said HB 2381 needs to be understood in a context other than the heated battle over reproductive rights.
“Really, it’s a health issue,” he said.
“We want to make sure our mothers seeking medical attention are protected.”
That argument doesn’t pass muster with pro-choice legislators. Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, contends the risks of RU-486 to the mother are minimal, and argues that HB 2381 can actually be harmful.
Requiring a doctor’s physical presence likely would force women in small towns to travel to cities like Oklahoma City or Tulsa to get access to the drug, he said.
Calling the bill another “ridiculous obstacle,” Wilson said lawmakers will succeed not in protecting a mother’s health, but in driving abortions underground.
“It’s important to note that we don’t have a law against knitting needles or coat hangers,” he said.
Abortion has dominated the state’s legislative dockets in recent months. The passage of HB 2381 comes amid controversy surrounding Senate Bill 1433, Oklahoma’s so-called personhood legislation. Passed by the state Senate, that measure screeched to a halt when the House Republican caucus decided not to bring it to a floor vote. Pro-life advocates claimed some victory on April 27, however, when Fallin signed a bill mandating that abortion providers give women the opportunity to hear the heartbeat of a fetus before an abortion.
Wilson chalks up all the abortion-related legislation to politics.
“I don’t know anybody in the Legislature who cares about abortion. What they care about is getting elected. The truth is that if they cared about abortion, we’d fund things like medically accurate sexual education.”
The end of personhood
Oklahoma’s personhood movement, which asserts human life begins at conception, has hit a wall of resistance.
The state Supreme Court on April 30 struck down an initiative petition that sought to expand the constitutional definition of humanity. The Oklahoma Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights had challenged the constitutionality of the personhood ballot measure.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1433, which in February passed the Senate, 34-8, and states that life begins at conception, was killed when the House Republican Caucus voted not to bring it to a vote on the House floor.
The House later passed a resolution declaring that “person” means a human being at all stages — including conception — but it does not carry the force of law, and it failed to mollify pro-life activists.
A letter from Oklahomans for Life distributed to House members and leaked on the Internet threatened that any legislators not supporting procedural motions that would bring SB 1433 to a vote would be labeled “pro-abortion.” The group later backed off that claim and apologized to Republican House members.
In addition, Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, asked that the House rules be suspended to bring SB 1433 to a floor vote. On April 26, as House Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, tried to adjourn, Reynolds unsuccessfully tried to shout over Hickman to try bringing the bill up for a vote.
Because the bill was not heard by the April 26 deadline, it is effectively dead this legislative session. —Clifton Adcock