Baptist leaders decry Oklahoma ‘personhood’ measure’s fate

Posted on April 21, 2012

NewsOK, April 21, 2012 by Michael McNutt

Oklahoma ‘personhood’ bill won’t get hearing on House floor, Speaker Kris Steele says. Opponents of the bill feared it could lead to restrictions on abortions, birth control, in-vitro fertilization and stem cell research.

Leaders with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma urged state legislators to have a public vote on a proposed legislative measure that its authors said was intended to be a statement that life begins at conception.

Expressing his disappointment over the fate of Senate Bill 1433, the convention’s president on Friday asked Oklahoma Baptists to contact their legislators and demand a public vote on the House floor.

The Rev. Doug Melton‘s prepared statement came as a response to the House Republican caucus’ private vote on the bill on Thursday. House Speaker Kris Steele said Thursday that the bill would not be given a hearing on the House floor. The bill escalated fears that it could lead to restrictions on abortions, birth control, in-vitro fertilization and stem cell research.

“Surely voters deserve to hear where their elected house members stand on this historic, pro-life legislation,” Melton said in his statement on Friday.

“I am extremely disappointed that the state House Republican caucus is refusing to allow such a crucial piece of legislation to be heard.”

The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma represents the state’s 1,800 Southern Baptist churches — Oklahoma‘s largest denomination.

Friday, Steele, a Southern Baptist preacher serving as an associate pastor at a United Methodist church in Shawnee, stuck to the Republican caucus’ stance on the private vote.

“The caucus reached its position after careful consideration and with deep appreciation for the position of the bill’s supporters,” Steele, R-Shawnee, said. “We all remain committed to life and are continuing to advance pro-life legislation as we have consistently done for the past eight years.”

Baptist convention President Melton, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in south Oklahoma City, said he is calling on Oklahoma Baptists “to rise above the miscommunication” used by opponents of the bill to derail it.Heidi Wilburn, public affairs consultant for the Baptist convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty committee, said the committee issued an email informational alert to all pastors and directors of missions at Southern Baptist churches throughout the state.

The personhood bill has drawn attention at the state Capitol and nationally. Hundreds gathered in February at the Capitol to protest the measure.

Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, held up a controversial sign at the protest saying what she would do if she wanted the government in her womb.

During Senate debate, Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, tried unsuccessfully to get an amendment to the measure that said it was an act against unborn children for men to waste sperm.

Neal Baltazor, of Harrah, was the main organizer for a March 26 “March for Life” sanctity of life march from an Oklahoma City church to the state Capitol. Baltazor said his group is made up of Roman Catholics in the metro area.

Friday, Baltazor said he was saddened by the Republican caucus’ private vote decision.

“I think it’s deplorable what they’ve done,” he said. “It’s deplorable that we can’t get a vote on the floor on such a strong statement as this.”

Baltazor said it is important to note that some Republicans are in favor of the measure.

“There are Republicans up there that want this thing voted on,” he said.

Friday, Rep. Paul Wesselhoft said he is disappointed the personhood bill will not be given a hearing on the House floor.

“When I ran for this office, I promised my constituents that I would be a pro-life voice in the legislature,” said Wesselhoft, R-Moore. “Therefore, my constituents and Republican friends deserve to know that I strongly supported, argued and voted for the personhood bill to be heard. Unfortunately, a majority of my Republicans colleagues voted not to hear it. That bill could have sent a vital moral message that human life in the womb is not a blob of tissue but a living person created in the image of God.”

Wilburn said her hope is that the proposed “personhood bill” will be considered again before Thursday’s deadline for the House to pass Senate-originated bills.

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