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Oklahoma lawmaker proposes constitutional amendment to say life begins at conception

Oklahoma State Capitol Building
Kyle Phillips
For Oklahoma Voice
Oklahoma State Capitol Building

An Oklahoma lawmaker wants voters to enshrine into the state Constitution that personhood begins at conception.

Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, said House Joint Resolution 1046 would make it more difficult for the Oklahoma Supreme Court justices to “ignore the rights of the unborn” in their rulings.

“The justices have this habit of when that issue comes before them, they consider the rights of the woman, which is proper, but they do not consider that the baby also has a right to life,” Olsen said.

In recent years, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down several anti-abortion laws, much to the ire of GOP lawmakers. The court also rejected a similar personhood proposal in 2012, long before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Olsen said it’s possible the measure could make it more difficult for women to terminate nonviable pregnancies.

But Olsen said he believes the majority of Oklahomans agree that life begins at conception, and that the bill has a chance to make it through the Legislature this year. If approved by lawmakers, the proposal would still have to be affirmed by voters.

“If there’s any movement, we will vehemently oppose this,” said Tamya Cox-Touré, chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice. “While we know that these bills have not gone anywhere in the past, we’re always extremely concerned when we do see measures like this introduced.”

Cox-Touré, who also serves as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said such ballot measures have been rejected in other states because defining personhood at conception doesn’t just impact abortion access.

She said such efforts can impact contraceptive use, the in vitro fertilization process, which involves freezing and fertilizing eggs, and have tax implications. Also, if personhood begins at conception it raises questions about whether people could take out life insurance policies on fertilized eggs, she said.

Cox-Touré said Oklahoma has also had a law for over 20 years defining when conception begins.

“So, something like this is unnecessary and does more damage in the long run,” she said.

Nimra Chowdhry, with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that Oklahoma anti-abortion lawmakers are “attempting to create an even harsher reality for people” in a state that already bans nearly all abortions.

She said the proposal could allow pregnant Oklahomans to be prosecuted for their own pregnancies, and doctors to be punished for providing lifesaving health care.

“This is an aggressive and extremely harmful tactic that could go as far as criminalizing pregnant people for a range of pregnancy related experiences, including miscarriages,” Chowdhry said. “Targeting pregnant people like this worsens the health and wellbeing of all Oklahomans.”

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

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