OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Anti-abortion activists urged House Republicans to bring a "personhood" bill to the floor for a vote and vowed on Tuesday to label any lawmaker who refuses to support the move as "pro-abortion."
A group of local religious leaders and other anti-abortion activists made the comments after the House overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution Tuesday that grants personhood rights at "all stages of human development." A resolution simply expresses the will of the Legislature and is not enforceable.
Rep. Steven Vaughan, the author of the resolution, quoted Scripture and began crying as he urged members to support the measure.
"I'm telling you, this is our Declaration of Independence," said Vaughan, R-Ponca City.
The resolution was adopted on a 74-13 vote.
"This is completely unacceptable," Kevin Calvey, vice chairman of Oklahomans for Life and a former GOP House member, said after the vote. "It is a cop-out, not a compromise."
Anti-abortion advocates are upset with leaders in the Republican-controlled House after Speaker Kris Steele announced last week the personhood bill would not be heard on the House floor. Steele has said closed-door polling of individual GOP members last week and again on Monday shows a majority of members do not want to grant the bill a hearing.
Abortion rights supporters, many of whom wore pink and packed into the House gallery, said they were relieved the personhood bill has been temporarily scuttled, but were cautious about their optimism.
"I've been around the Capitol long enough to know that nothing is dead out here until they adjourn Sine Die," said Ryan Kiesel, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a former Democratic lawmaker. "Let's not mistake what happened in the Republican caucus last week as somehow a signal that this Legislature is friendly with regards to reproductive health and the reproductive rights of women.
"This has routinely been the epicenter in the United States of America for anti-women and anti-reproductive health care legislation, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon."
Steele, R-Shawnee, said members expressed a variety of concerns over the bill, including that it could lead to a ban on in-vitro fertilization and certain forms of birth control and result in another potentially lengthy and costly legal challenge. The state currently is defending two separate anti-abortion measures from legal challenges — one that restricts the use of abortion inducing drugs and another that forces women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a doctor describe the fetus before having an abortion.
"Politics took over, and the Republican caucus took matters into their own hands with votes behind closed doors to determine to kill this bill. The process failed us. The legislators failed us," said Heidi Wilburn, a spokeswoman for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
The bill states that unborn humans at all stages of development have "all the rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state." It is bitterly opposed by doctors who perform reproductive medicine and the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
Calvey said an attempt will be made later this week to force a vote on the bill, and any member who fails to support the procedural votes necessary to bring the bill to a full vote will be regarded as a "pro-abortion vote on that member's record."
"The pro-life community in Oklahoma is stunned and dismayed by that behavior of the House Republican caucus," Calvey said. "Many cannot even believe it's legal to vote in secret to kill this bill without going on the record in public about it."
Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday passed bills to further restrict the prescription of abortion inducing drugs and to make it easier to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers. The drug bill heads to the governor's desk, while the lawsuit bill returns to the House.
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy