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Oklahoma remains aggressive with anti-abortion movement

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
A yard sign promoting a radical, anti-abortion group outside Southgate Pentecostal Holiness Church in Moore, Oklahoma.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- As the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed closely divided on its first major abortion case in almost a decade in a challenge to a Texas law imposing strict regulations on clinics and abortion doctors, Oklahoma was roaring toward more aggressive legislation to control abortion practices in the state.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved legislation this week that would require Oklahoma high schools to teach a course on the “humanity of the unborn child,” a law that opponents say uses state funds to push an anti-abortion agenda. The bill now heads to the Senate for debate.

The “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act” passed the House Tuesday by a vote of 64-12. The bill, authored by Lawton Representative Ann Coody, will require public high schools to teach students in grades nine to 12 “about the humanity of a child in utero.” The course would also teach about how a fetus is formed and its stages during pregnancy.

"This is to show how a human being develops in the womb and it shows its humanity from the time of conception until it is born,” said Coody."I believe this will give women the opportunity to make a wise choice about whether or not to have an abortion. So many are told that a fetus is just tissue, and they may not realize it’s a human being.”

Others say the bill is one of many pieces of legislation that are aggressively trying to turn Oklahoma into an “abortion-free” state. Democratic State Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) is one of those speaking out against such measures.

“The bill specifically prohibits any discussion of ‘human sexuality,’” she said on social media. “So, we are requiring discussion on pregnancy, but at no time can we discuss how pregnancy happens. Unbelievable."

"As the president of the State Medical Association said regarding that bill, ‘It seems remarkably incongruous to introduce a debate over personhood and abortion without simultaneously providing students with other factual information regarding human sexuality and reproduction,’” she said.

A pro-choice rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol in 2012 opposing a proposed "personhood" bill. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

Virgin and Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City) tried to add amendments to the bill that “would actually prevent pregnancies” by including sex education, but those measures were tabled.

According to Coody, bill affirms a recent Supreme Court decision that legislatures have the ability to make value judgments that push pro-life measures over abortions and to use public funds to do so. If parents wish, they could have their children opt out of the course instruction.

The bill also prevents any funds from being used for sex education or abortion counseling. She stated that sex education would condone sex before marriage.

"The only sure way to prevent pregnancy is not to have intercourse," she said.

The way the course is taught would be left up to each district, Coody said; however, due to the current budget crisis facing the state, implementation of the new course would be put on hold until funds are available.

Pro-choice supporters say the bill is both politicizing and dangerous for education.

“Our students are political pawns, right?” Karo Chowning of the Oklahoma Coalition of Reproductive Justice said. “This is a politically-motivated law.”

The bill is the latest in an aggressive move by state lawmakers to push a pro-life agenda. In January, Americans United for Life released its annual report about the most pro-life and pro-abortion states when it comes to passing pro-life legislation, and Oklahoma overtook Louisiana as the most pro-life state.

But for some in the anti-abortion movement, pro-life legislators do not go far enough and Oklahoma doesn't do enough to completely eradicate abortion. On the evening of Super Tuesday, the Norman-based anti-abortion activist group, the Abolitionist Society of Norman, was handing out pamphlets about their group to folks attending a presidential campaign event for Marco Rubio at Putnam City North High School. Dozens of activists approached people heading into the event, sharing their radical message.

Alan Maricle, a member of the group, told Red Dirt Report that they are calling for the "uncompromising abolition of abortion."

Norman-based activist Alan Maricle supports the pro-life website AbolishAbortionOK.com. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

"Basically, what we're trying to do is stick a sharp stick in the eye of the pro-life movement," Maricle said, adding, "We believe the pro-life movement is fatally compromised in a variety of different ways. We're calling pro-life legislators to actually do something more substantive."

Abortion remains a hot-button issue in Oklahoma and has been for many years.

Recall that in 2012, radical pro-life activist and former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry qualified to be on the Oklahoma Democratic primary ballot and actually garnered 18 percent of the vote against incumbent Barack Obama that year. Terry, known for his graphic protest signs and grisly videos showing aborted fetuses, said he was seeking out pro-life Democrats in the state.

AN "F" GRADE

On the flip side, NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation gave Oklahoma an “F” on the 2016 “Report Card for Women’s Reproductive Health.”

In May, the legislature approved and Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law a budget bill that allocates $37,952 for alternatives-to-abortion services, which took effect in July. In addition, Fallin signed into law a bill that adds the following sentence to the state’s abortion counseling materials: “Abortion shall terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The measure also extends the state’s abortion waiting period from 24 to 72 hours.

The fight against abortion continued into the Oklahoma Supreme Court in February, when the high court upheld a law that requires abortion clinics to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs only in accordance with the FDA-approved label.

The decision by the court upholds HB 2684, passed by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2014 to prohibit the off-label use of drugs to perform abortions. The law’s purpose was to end Oklahoma abortion providers’ continued practice of using off-label methods of abortion inducing drugs like mifepristone, also known as RU-486.

“I am pleased the Oklahoma Supreme Court has chosen to uphold HB 2684,” Attorney General Pruitt said. “The off-label use of abortion-inducing drugs has resulted in catastrophic consequences for women nationwide, and I appreciate the Oklahoma Legislature’s efforts to protect the health and safety of Oklahoma women over the interests of the abortion industry.”

Buttons on display at a pro-choice event in 2013. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

Ninety-six percent of Oklahoma counties lack an abortion provider.

In addition, Oklahoma restricts insurance coverage of abortion for all individuals. It prohibits the use of all public facilities and public employees for abortion services, and allows entities to refuse to provide women specific reproductive-health services. It also restricts young women's access to abortion services by mandating parental notice and consent and prohibits certain qualified health-care professionals from providing abortion care with a law that subjects abortion providers to restrictions not applied to other medical professionals.

Red Dirt Report's Andrew W. Griffin contributed to this story.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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