The Sooner State is $1.2 billion in the red, its pro-life Republicans cut funding for teen child care centers which they support, while at the same time spending 10 times those savings fighting challenged anti-abortion legislation in the courts.
Within hours after the Oklahoma Senate voted 36-12 overriding the governor's veto last week, a New York reproductive rights group filed suit in an Oklahoma City district court claiming the new law violates a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy and constitutional rights to equal protection.
Democratic Gov. Brad Henry said the law likely would be overturned in costly litigation. He also criticized it for lacking stipulations for rape or incest victims.
To appreciate the extent two pro-life laws go to make it difficult for women seeking a constitutional right to an abortion, the Oklahoman newspaper described the provisions:
House Bill 2780
• Requires women seeking an abortion to be shown an ultrasound at least an hour before undergoing the procedure.
• The health care provider must describe fetal development, including the heart beat and development of organs or limbs. The woman can avert her eyes, but health care providers are required to give an explanation.
• Women seeking an abortion because of a medical emergency are not required to view an ultrasound image. A written certificate detailing the medical emergency will stay in a patient’s file for up to seven years.
• A doctor who does not comply with the ultrasound requirement can be sued by the woman seeking an abortion; the patient’s spouse, parent, sibling or guardian; or another health care provider.
• The district attorney or attorney general also can bring legal action to stop the provider from doing abortions.
• A physician who violates the injunction could be fined up to $100,000.
House Bill 2656
• Protects a health care provider from a lawsuit if their omission of information about the health or condition of an unborn child "contributed to the mother not having obtained an abortion” even when a fetus has severe disabilities.
Oklahoma lawmakers "stooped to a new low this week by passing two bills that constitute a reprehensible intrusion of government into women's lives," observed the San Jose Mercury News editorial.
In cutting off debate for the override vote, Sen. Anthony Sikes pointed out in support of the legislation that the author of the house bill was a woman, Rep. Lisa Billy as if only women know best. "This (ultrasound) is done a high percentage of the time prior, to determine the size and weight,” Sykes said. "And it’s done again after the murder of that child to make sure they didn’t leave any of it in the womb.”
But the cost of court-challenged legislation worries not only the Democratic governor but some Republicans in the Legislature.
"I respect my colleagues' right to put those issues out there, and I generally vote for most of them, if not all of them. But in these budget times, it is kind of concerning," said Republican state Rep. Doug Cox.
"It simply makes no sense to continue to pass unconstitutional measures that run up legal bills and waste taxpayers' money," Gov.Henry said.
In the past three years, the number of Oklahoma laws challenged in court increased from 15 in 2007 to 18 in 2008 and 24 last year. While the state attorney general's office handles some of the litigation in house, two earlier abortion bills ruled unconstitutional were litigated by outside law firms which billed the state $90,000.
"In addition to being constitutionally suspect, these bills are fiscally irresponsible," said University of Oklahoma constitutional law professor Joseph Thai. "Taxpayers may not appreciate that a challenged law costs hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to litigate."
Attorney Michael Salem who reached a "six figure" settlement for the state last year in a court-challenged state initiative law said billable attorney hours can climb into the thousands and more, adding insult to injury, when the state loses and must pay the plaintiff's attorney fees and court costs.
Oklahoma's anti-immigration bill passed three years ago is still tied up in court litigation. The Legislature this year was outraged Attorney General Drew Edmondson declined to challenge Congress's new health overhaul law.
A bill the Oklahoma House is considering this session would authorize the death penalty for child rapists, a penalty the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in a Louisiana case two years ago.
Tom Daxon, a former budget director under Republican Gov. Frank Keating said lawmakers should only pick legal fights they think they can win. "If we have a situation where we're fighting constitutional battles on 20 bills, that could become a significant factor, and an especially significant factor given the budget situation," Daxon said.
And those budget cuts for child care? Democratic Sen. Andrew Rice, reminded lawmakers of cuts in this year’s budget that did away with prenatal care at an Oklahoma City school for teen mothers.
"When the budget comes down the road, let’s ask ourselves if we’re being pro-life with the budget,” said Rice. "These girls did what we wanted them to do. They had their babies. Are we going to find the money to enable them to take care of unborn babies and babies when they’re born?”
I see a disconnect in reality with the Republican Legislature in Oklahoma. They cut funds for prenatal and child care for a program their conservative values support. At the same time they spend taxpayers money as if it's going out of style to defend legislation they know in advance will be challenged or killed in court. That's not being penny wise and pound foolish. It is insanity as in repeating the same mistake over and over until by some remote chance believing they will get it right. These are the same people who complain government is too intrusive and chant slogans as "Get Out Of Our Lives." I challenge anyone from Oklahoma -- hell, even across America -- to convince me otherwise.
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