A Difficult Choice Concerning Oklahomas Abortion Law
We have historically included pro-life legislation as one of the ten bills used to score legislators in the Oklahoma Conservative Index. Following the overturn of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court of the United States last year, the legislation in Oklahoma reinstating the ban on abortion was one of the bills on our legislative ratings last year. With that accomplishment, I wondered what we would do with the issue in future years. I did not expect that we would see legislation to reverse course and allow more abortions. I also did not expect that such a move would be supported by Republican legislators. In fact, the vote approving the legislation in committee was supported by nine Republicans and opposed by the two Democrats.
I was contacted by one of our readers who was concerned about this effort. He was particularly upset that it was being promoted by Tony Lauinger and his Oklahoman’s for Life organization. I did recall seeing an email from Oklahoman’s for Life, but did not remember it saying anything about supporting legislation to allow abortion in cases of rape and incest. Going back through the emails, I discovered why I did not remember it supporting pro-abortion legislation. The headline of the email said: “Support SB 834 to Help Oklahoma Defeat the Abortion Industry’s Attempt to Impose Unlimited Abortion on Our Pro-Life State.” The email went on to say: “Urge state Senators to support SB 834 by Senator Julie Daniels in order to strengthen Oklahoma's ability to defeat the abortion industry's constitutional amendment which would impose unlimited abortion on our pro-life state.”
Nowhere did the email say we should support this legislation because it would allow abortion in cases of rape and incest. Instead, this is how it explained the bill: “Oklahoma legislators enacted two types of pro-life protections last year – criminal penalties and civil remedies (which allow private lawsuits against abortionists). A couple of tightly limited circumstances under which abortion is allowed were in the civil-remedies law but not in the criminal-penalties law. SB 834 synchronizes those circumstances in both laws.” Apparently, “synchronizes” is the key word here. So, we need to synchronize the criminal law to exempt abortion in cases of rape and incest, since those circumstances were not included in the civil remedies legislation. Those exemptions were the “couple of tightly limited circumstances” that abortion should be allowed.
The email did explain how synchronizing the criminal law would help strengthen the ability to defeat a constitutional amendment that might be submitted in the future. “Our current criminal law, passed last year by courageous pro-life legislators, reflects a position which is supported by just four percent (4%) of Oklahoma voters. SB 834, which would prohibit all but five percent of abortions, reflects a position which is supported by 71% of Oklahoma voters.” In other words our current criminal law which bans all abortions, including those resulting from rape and incest, is only supported by 4% of Oklahoma voters. But, if we provide an exemption for rape and incest, the law would be supported by 71% of Oklahoma voters.
The email further explained that there have been statewide votes on abortion in other states over the last year and supporters of unlimited abortions won victories in all of those contests. Furthermore, “Several of their pro-abortion wins were in conservative states: Kansas, Kentucky, Montana. In Kansas, abortion supporters spent 21 million dollars in winning by 18 percentage points. In Michigan, the abortion industry spent 47 million dollars, and won by 13 points.”
While Senate Bill 834 sailed through committee, it needed to be approved by the entire Senate by March 23 to proceed on the path to become law. I talked to one of our conservative senators to see if he had been contacted in support of the bill as Tony Lauinger had urged in his email recipients. He said he was indeed contacted by many and when he explained that the bill would provide an exemption for abortions resulting from rape and incest, they agreed with his planned vote against the bill. As the deadline neared, several groups and many individuals who take a pro-life stance, mobilized in opposition to the bill. Apparently, the bill never came to a vote because there were enough pro-life Republicans in opposition.
While the legislation is dead for the current legislative session, it is likely to reemerge next year. In the meantime, those of us in the pro-life movement must consider the wisest course to combat a potential initiative petition effort to place a right to abortion in the state constitution. I have known Tony Lauinger for over 40 years. He is a fellow Roman Catholic and I have no doubt that he sincerely believes that the proposed legislation was the best approach. As he said in his emails, “If we lose the vote on the pro-abortion constitutional amendment, we won't be losing it for ourselves; we will be losing it – losing everything – for the unborn children of Oklahoma.”
There is not yet a known effort to launch an initiative petition drive, and we do not know what it would propose. Oklahoma’s initiative petition requirements are stiffer than most other states. An Initiative for a Constitutional Change or Amendment must have 172,993 valid signatures of voters. This represents 15% of the votes cast in the last election for the Office of Governor. This necessitates the collection of substantially more raw signatures to obtain enough valid ones, and the validation process is now much more thorough due to recent changes in the law. This takes a massive effort, which is why many opt for a non-constitutional change which only requires 92,263 valid signatures. But, a non-constitutional change can be overturned by a vote of the Legislature. Even if a State Question for a Constitutional Amendment did make it to the ballot, it is not a sure thing that it would pass.
At this time, I am not ready to throw in the towel and give up the lives of the unborn babies that would be impacted by this approach. Over the years we have quizzed many candidates concerning their position on abortion. Most Republican candidates claim to be pro-life. But upon further inquiry, some would reveal that they supported an exemption for rape and incest. However, they usually were stumped when asked why the unborn child deserved the death penalty, just because of who the parents were. Their lives are just as precious as the other unborn.
However, we may be forced to make a difficult choice in the coming year. There is a legitimate threat that all could be lost with an initiative petition. As Tony communicated in his email, the pro-abortion side has many things going for them: “They have unlimited funds for advertising, a willingness to distort, mislead, and deceive, and a sympathetic pro-abortion media.”
Ron McWhirter is one of the founders of the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper and serves as the General Manager. He may be contacted at the newspaper email: firstname.lastname@example.org