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Capitol Insider: State Senate Advances Six More Anti-abortion Measures

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Oklahoma's State Senate approved legislation to further limit abortion in the state and to prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of a Mississippi anti-abortion law.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, Thursday's action in the State Senate focused on anti-abortion legislation – four bills and two joint resolutions. Now, Oklahoma already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. So, what would these new bills do?

Shawn Ashley: Well, Senate Bill 1503 creates the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act, which would prohibit abortions if a heartbeat is detected unless the physician believes a medical emergency exists. While Senate Bill 1533 prohibits a person from performing or inducing an abortion if more than 30 days have passed since the probable beginning of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman. Senate Bill 1552 authorizes the State Department of Health to enter contracts with private organizations to provide services under the “Choosing Childbirth Act,” which promotes alternatives to abortion. Senate Bill 1555 authorizes the state of Oklahoma to enforce existing statute that makes performing an abortion a felony or to enact a similar statute or amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution if the U.S. Supreme Court overrules, in a whole or in part, Roe v. Wade.

And then there were two joint resolutions. SJR 17 submits to the vote of the people a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion except to save the life of the mother or of a fetus, and SJR 37, which submits to the vote of the people, a constitutional amendment that says there is no right to abortion in Oklahoma’s state Constitution. All those measures now go to the House for possible further consideration.

Dick Pryor: So, is the U.S. Supreme Court rendering a decision this term on the Mississippi abortion law influencing this legislation in Oklahoma?

Shawn Ashley: I think it certainly is. The Mississippi abortion ban is at 15 weeks. Senate Bill 1533 backs that even more, and the two proposed state questions, SJR 17 and SJR 37, assume in part that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn or severely limit abortion rights in the United States. Both contain language that say there is no right to abortion in the state Constitution. And Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said the language is necessary if the federal decisions legalizing abortion are overturned, because then the fight will become state by state. And some state courts, such as Kansas, have ruled that their Constitution protects abortion, and the two proposed state questions, if approved by voters, would prevent that.

Dick Pryor: Both of the joint resolutions could wind up on the November general election ballot as state questions, how many state questions could we see this year?

Shawn Ashley: That was an issue raised on the Senate floor Thursday during debate on the resolutions. Currently, there are more than 20 state question proposals alive in the Legislature. Some are similar or redundant, but voters could be looking at a lengthy ballot later this year. It just depends on what happens by the end of the legislative session.

Dick Pryor: The State Board of Education did not approve health and physical education standards recommended by the State Department of Education but did approve standards proposed by one of the board members. What's going on there?

Shawn Ashley: Yeah, it's really unusual that a board totally rejects what its department staff proposes and goes its own way. But that's exactly what happened on Thursday. Board member Brian Bobek said he only saw the proposed standards less than three weeks ago and due to the drastic changes and the importance of the work, he felt uncomfortable approving that without more time. So, he proposed and won approval from a majority of the board of a plan that maintains the current standards and adds language related to mental health education objectives. But it does not go into the detailed and interconnected approach proposed by the State Department of Education staff. His proposal also calls for the standards to be reviewed in 12 months, which will be after the new Superintendent of Public Instruction is elected and has taken office.

Dick Pryor: The Legislature is joining most schools around the state by taking time off for spring break. How will that affect legislative work?

Shawn Ashley: The Senate plans to work just Monday and Tuesday, and indications are that the House will follow suit and only be in session on Monday and Tuesday, as well. So, the chambers will be dark Wednesday and Thursday. When lawmakers come back to the Capitol on March 21st they will face a March 24th deadline for bills to be heard in their chambers of origin.

Dick Pryor: That means that week will be very busy.

Shawn Ashley: Very busy indeed.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: We would like to hear from you. Email your questions to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. For more information, go to quorumcall.online and you can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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