April 28, 2010 — The Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday joined the state House in overriding Gov. Brad Henry's (D) vetoes of two antiabortion-rights bills, making the measures law, the New York Times reports. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights immediately challenged one of the laws in state court, arguing that it is unconstitutional and violates a woman's right to privacy.
The first law (HB 2780) requires abortion providers to perform an ultrasound before an abortion and mandates that the doctor or technician set up the monitor to enable the woman to see the image. The person performing the ultrasound also must describe any visible organs and limbs of the fetus. The law does not include exceptions for survivors of rape or incest.
The second measure (HB 2656) prohibits women who give birth to an infant with disabilities from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects during the pregnancy. Opponents of the law argue that it will protect physicians who intentionally mislead women to prevent abortion (McKinley, New York Times, 4/27). Supporters say the law is intended to prevent women from discriminating against fetuses with disabilities (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/27).
Both of the laws enacted Tuesday were first passed in 2008 as part of an omnibus antiabortion bill (SB 1878), the Times reports. State courts struck down that measure because it violated the state constitution's single-subject rule. This year, Republican leaders divided the abortion-related provisions of the omnibus bill into smaller bills, two of which Henry signed two into law. One of those laws (HB 3075) requires abortion clinics to post signs stating that a woman cannot be forced to have an abortion, while the second (SB 1890) makes it illegal to abort a fetus based on its gender (New York Times, 4/27).
Stephanie Toti, an attorney for CRR, said the new ultrasound law "is the most restrictive in the country." She added, "All providers will be forced to use the ultrasounds. A woman won't be able to seek a provider that doesn't use an ultrasound as standard practice" (Bisbee, Oklahoman, 4/28). CRR President Nancy Northup said that the suit filed Tuesday argues that the ultrasound law violates the doctor's freedom of speech and the woman's right to equal protection (New York Times, 4/27). Northup also said, "Oklahoma has now passed the most burdensome ultrasound law in the country," adding, "Until Oklahoma stops harassing women who are seeking abortions, we will continue to sue the state on these unconstitutional restrictions" (CNN, 4/27).
In issuing the vetoes last week, Henry said the ultrasound law is flawed because it does not include exceptions for cases of rape and incest. He added that it is an unconstitutional intrusion into a woman's privacy (New York Times, 4/27). State lawmakers "should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will, especially when such a procedure could cause physical or mental trauma," Henry said of the ultrasound measure.
In reference to the second measure, Henry said it is "unconscionable to grant a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform a pregnant woman in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on his patient." He added that the legislation "would allow unscrupulous, reckless or negligent physicians to knowingly withhold information or negligently provide inaccurate information to pregnant women without facing the potential of legal consequences" (CNN, 4/27).
After the override votes, Henry said, "Both laws will be challenged and, in all likelihood, overturned by the courts as unconstitutional." He added, "I fear this entire exercise will ultimately be a waste of taxpayers' time and money" (Talley, AP/Washington Times, 4/27).
Other Antiabortion Bills Pending
Two other antiabortion measures remain before the Legislature and are likely to pass, according to the Times. One (HB 3284) would force women to complete a lengthy questionnaire about their reasons for seeking an abortion, and statistics based on women's answers would be posted online. The second bill (HB 3290) would restrict insurance coverage of abortion.
According to women's health advocates, the combination of the various antiabortion measures would make Oklahoma's laws among the most prohibitive in the nation. Anita Fream, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma, said, "These laws all have the same goal, and that's to discourage women from seeking abortions in the first place." She added, "They just throw down one roadblock after another in front of women and hope maybe they will give up" (New York Times, 4/27).
NBC's "Nightly News" on Tuesday reported on the veto overrides and examined the details of the two new laws (Williams, "Nightly News," NBC, 4/27).
A KWTV/CNN video also examines the laws. The segment includes comments from state Sen. Todd Lamb (R), a Henry spokesperson and Dana Stone of Planned Parenthood (KWTV/CNN, 4/27).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership