As March begins, it looks like 2012 is gearing up to be a repeat of 2011 in terms of the number of anti-choice legislation we’ve seen introduced and passed at the state level. This week’s Red State Round Up will focus on two such pieces of legislation: “personhood” bills in Oklahoma and a bill forcing women seeking an abortion get an ultrasound in Virginia.
In Oklahoma, there are actually two “personhood” bills. House Joint Resolution 1067 introduced by Representative Mike Reynolds would put personhood on Oklahoma’s November ballot. Proposed Article 38 would amend the state constitution and declare that persons include “every human being from the beginning of…biological development”, thus giving personhood to fertilized eggs at the moment of conception and at subsequent stages of development. Article 38 goes farther by prohibiting the intentional killing of “persons”, which upon the passage of this bill would cover everything starting from a fertilized egg. The bill appears to have been tabled for the time being.
The ramifications of this potential state constitutional amendment are profound. At the heart of it, the bill outlaws abortion at any stage of pregnancy in clear violation of Roe v. Wade. The bill would also affect certain types of in vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction. Additionally, since a fertilized egg before implantation into the uterine wall would technically be a person, emergency contraception like Plan B would no longer be available to women. Currently Plan B is available over-the counter to women and men 18 years of age or older and by prescription to younger women and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports this availability. The bill does not provide an exception for rape or incest. This means that, even in the case of rape, female victims would no longer be offered this option with the passage of the amendment.
Senator Brian Crain introduced the second “personhood” bill in Oklahoma, SB 1433. The bill was passed by the Senate on February 15th, by a vote of 34-8 and introduced in the House last Tuesday, February 22nd. If passed by the House, Oklahoma Republican Governor Fallin will likely sign it into law. The bill states that the life of every human begins at the moment of conception, thus also granting “personhood” to a fertilized egg and all other subsequent stages of development. It also states that, from the moment of conception, all “persons” have a right to life.
Although proponents of SB 1433 claim that it is merely a philosophical statement and that no physical action will be taken upon the bill’s passage, legally the bill could have the same ramifications as HJR 1067 and is a dangerous erosion of women’s reproductive rights. Oklahomans Against the Personhood Act gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to rally in opposition to the bill and Trust Women intern Molly Oakley spoke against the measure, advocating trust in women’s own decision-making ability.
Another state that saw rallies and protests in opposition to an anti-choice bill this week was Virginia. The anti-choice bill, currently passed by both the House and the Senate, requires women to undergo an external, trans-abdominal ultrasound at least 24 hours prior to having an abortion even when medically unnecessary. The bill passed the House of Delegates on Wednesday, February 22nd by a vote of 65-32 and the Senate this past Tuesday, February 28th by a vote of 21-19. Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell is expected to sign the bill into law.
Originally, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would have required women to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound procedure 24 hours before an abortion. However, Governor McDonnell withdrew his support and the new version of the bill was formed after a protest at the state capitol. On February 20th, in a powerful show of solidarity, over 1,000 demonstrators lined the walkway outside the Capitol building where they linked arms and remained silent as legislators arrived. Many held signs that carried their messages, such as “Virginia is for lovers, not probes” and “Keep your laws off my future wife’s body”.
The few Senators and Delegates who voted against the bill brought up the tragic consequences to women and families as well as the dangerous medical precedent it would set. To begin with, the bill mandates ultrasounds that are medically unnecessary. This completely disregards a doctor’s say in deciding what’s necessary for his or her patients, merely to advance a political agenda. The Virginia state Senate’s only doctor, Senator Ralph Northam said, “That’s telling me and my colleagues how to practice medicine… This was a tremendous assault on women’s health and a tremendous insult on the medical profession.”
Additionally, in forcing women to undergo a medically unnecessary procedure, this bill disrespects women’s decisions and their bodies. Many protestors and opposing legislators regarded the original bill as “state-sanctioned rape” because of the trans-vaginal probe that would have to be inserted into a woman’s vagina against her will prior to an abortion. Although the bill that passed mandates a trans-abdominal ultrasound as opposed to a trans-vaginal ultrasound, Senator Janet Howell pointed out that it is still forcing women to submit to an unnecessary procedure.
From the passage of this bill in Virginia, we can look ahead to more mandatory ultrasound bills in the future. Alabama, Pennsylvania and Idaho have introduced similar bills. Yet one inspiring thing we can learn from Virginia is that when protestors stand together, we can make a difference. In Virginia, it was taking an awful bill and making it slightly less physically intrusive, though still unacceptably so. Maybe next time, our message will halt the passage of a similar bill altogether. In fact this has already occurred. The “Blunt” Amendment introduced by Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), which would have allowed religious groups as well as any employer with moral objections to opt out of coverage any health service, was defeated in the United States Senate yesterday after a flood of opposition. This is just one example of how, when we stand together for reproductive rights and vocalize our message, we win.