Oklahoma Senate Overrides Abortion Bills’ Veto, but Challenge Has Already Emerged

Oklahoma Senate Overrides Abortion Bills

Though the Oklahoma Senate voted on Tuesday to override Gov. Brad Henry’s veto of two abortion bills, the Center for Reproductive Rights has already filed suit, calling the laws unconstitutional.

One of the bills requires a woman to get an ultrasound at least one hour prior to an abortion and to be given a detailed explanation of it. Though three other states require ultrasounds, none require the description of the fetus. The other prevents wrongful life and wrongful birth lawsuits against doctors who withhold information about a pregnancy, which supporters say prevents women from choosing to abort fetuses with disabilities.

Governor Henry, a Democrat, vetoed the first bill on the grounds that it was “an unconstitutional attempt by the Oklahoma Legislature to insert government into the private lives and decisions of its citizens,” and that it made no exceptions for rape or incest victims and would be tantamount to “the state victimiz(ing) the victim for a second time” in those cases.

He vetoed the second one because he thought it immoral, saying in his veto message, “It is unconscionable to grant a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform pregnant women in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on a patient.

“The Oklahoma House overwhelmingly overrode the two vetoes on Monday. The Senate voted 36-12 on both bills, with the exact number of votes needed to sustain the override. The measures then became law.

“Republicans have championed the sanctity of life for decades, and today we once again saw our efforts come to fruition with bipartisan support behind these critical measures,” state Sen. Todd Lamb (R-Edmond), the majority floor leader, said in a statement.

Two hours after the veto override, however, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed suit against the law requiring ultrasounds prior to an abortion, writing in a statement that the legislation unconstitutionally invades a patient’s right to

privacy, does not respect patient autonomy and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship “by compelling doctors to deliver unwanted speech.”

“Politicians have no business making medical decisions,” said Stephanie Toti, a CRR staff attorney. “When they do, it seriously undermines doctors’ ability to give patients the best medical care and does absolutely nothing to improve the health of patients.”The Oklahoma Legislature has attempted to pass such abortion bills before. In 2008, it passed a measure that required women to get an ultrasound and hear a detailed description of it prior to having an abortion and overrode the subsequent veto from Gov. Henry.

However, following a challenge from the CRR in 2009, an Oklahoma State District Court ruled that the law addressed too many topics and violated the state constitution’s “single-subject” requirement. For the same reason, in February the court struck down another challenged law that included a provision requiring a woman seeking an abortion to provide personal information and reasons for seeking an abortion.

“The state has already spent the last two years defending this abortion restriction and several others – without success,” Toti said. “Another round in the courts won’t change our strong constitutional claims against the law, it will only waste more of Oklahoma taxpayers’ time and money.”

Gov. Henry said that both laws would most likely be found unconstitutional and overturned by the courts.

“I fear this entire exercise will ultimately be a waste of taxpayers’ time and money,” he said.

In his statement, state Sen. Lamb called attention to how the Oklahoma Legislature respected and stood by the court’s judgment, passing separate abortion bills this time around.

“Those who consistently oppose our measures need to look at the bold and positive stand the Senate made today, as well as our commitment to acting on behalf of Oklahomans in a fair and efficient manner,” he said.

The Oklahoma Legislature had also passed three other abortion bills last week. One requires the woman to fill out a lengthy questionnaire providing personal information and reasons for seeking an abortion, which the doctor would report to a state website sans the woman’s name; another forbids state exchange program insurance from covering abortions. Those two bills were sent back to the House and are still making their way through the legislature.

The fifth bill, which requires clinics to post signs stating it’s illegal for anyone to force a woman to have an abortion, was signed into law by Gov. Henry.