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Oklahoma Senator proposes fetal heartbeat bill; organizations express worry

Sen. Paul Scott.
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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OKLAHOMA CITY – President Trump on Monday made his administration’s stance on abortion clear by signing an executive order blocking foreign aid or federal funding for international nongovernmental groups that provide or "promote" abortions.

In Oklahoma, lawmakers are following suit with the first bill being introduced to restrict abortions, a move that has reproductive services organizations concerned.

Nicknamed the Mexico City Policy or “Gag Rule,” Trump’s mandate blocks federal funding to international charities that provide abortions or promote the procedure.

In Oklahoma, legislation was filed last week by Sen. Paul Scott (R-Duncan) that would provide a definition to when life begins as when the first heartbeat is heard in a move to strengthen Oklahoma’s Heartbeat Informed Consent Act. Senate Bill 710 would prohibit abortions if the embryonic or fetal heartbeat of the unborn child is audible.

“I am pro-life and believe in the sanctity of life. I don’t believe in abortions but since we can’t go against the federal government, we must do all we can within our constitutional rights. As a state, we can provide a clear, scientific definition that life begins with the first heartbeat,” said Scott. 

During the fifth week of pregnancy, or the third week after conception, a baby's heart, brain, spinal cord, and other organs begin to form, Scott said.

However, opponents say the bill basically outlaws abortions period, since most are performed after week six or seven, when a heartbeat is audible.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, a leading reproductive health researcher and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), told Red Dirt Report that Scott’s bill would unfairly restrict a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

“The fetal heartbeat law is essentially an abortion ban since the vast majority of abortions occur after 6-7 weeks, which is the earliest a heartbeat can be detected,” Grossman said Tuesday. “In the current framework of Roe v. Wade, this kind of abortion ban is clearly unconstitutional. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court were completely reshaped with the addition of two to three justices, it is clear that this law will never go into effect. But it will cost the state a lot of money if they try to implement it and have to defend it in court.”

Scott, on the other hand, said abortion laws were outdated and based on old science.

Roe v. Wade was settled 43 years ago. Now doctors have the tools and knowledge to not only sustain life several weeks earlier than was possible back then but now they can even create life in the lab,” said Scott. “Instead of offering to let the mother hear her baby’s heartbeat before she terminates its life as is current law, we need to fight for that baby and acknowledge that it is in fact a human being with the right to live.”

Grossman said the text of the proposed bill doesn’t justify the ban.

“Statements by Sen. Scott suggest that the bill is necessary because doctors have to tools to keep a very premature fetus alive. Clearly a six-week embryo cannot survive outside of the womb,” he said, adding that conservative legislatures and Congress are now feeling emboldened under the Trump administration to introduce even more restrictions on abortion access and possibly even on access to contraception.

“But unless the Supreme Court is radically reshaped, Roe v. Wade will remain the law of the land—as it has been for over 40 years,” he said. “The recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt reaffirmed Roe and provided more clarity around what constitutes undue burden. I think litigators will have powerful tools in these decisions to fight back against these restrictive laws.

The Oklahoma legislative session will begin on Feb. 6.

Price concerns

Ahead of Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for Rep. Price, other health organizations are speaking out against a perceived move to restrict access to affordable birth control as well.

Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, a leading women’s health research organization who just announced a partnership to make birth control available over the counter, said many U.S. citizens still have problems accessing birth control.

“We are deeply troubled by the record of Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services,” she said. “Rep. Price’s 2012 comments suggesting that no women in the United States lack access to affordable birth control were false then, are false now and are profoundly concerning for those of us interested in women’s health and rights in the U.S. In reality, many people currently face significant barriers to accessing birth control.

She said some aren’t able to take time off work or afford transportation or child care in order to go to their doctor for a birth control prescription.

“Rep. Price’s opposition to the contraception coverage mandate created by the Affordable Care Act is also seriously concerning,” Blanchard said. “There is strong evidence on the benefits of access to contraception for women and families’ health and wellbeing. True access to birth control means affordability, and birth control must be covered by insurance, whether it’s available over the counter without a prescription or prescribed by a doctor or pharmacist.”

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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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