Right Choice – Caucus shelves personhood bill

Posted on April 21, 2012

Tulsa World, April 21, 2012

In a stunning and frankly unexpected display of common sense, House Republicans on Thursday decided not to take up a controversial, so-called “personhood” bill.

House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said the House Republican caucus had decided not to hear Senate Bill 1433, which already had passed the Senate.

Noting that Oklahoma is “already perhaps the most pro-life state in this country,” he indicated one reason House Republicans did not agree to take up the bill was because it “would not have any substantive policy effect.”

The caucus made a reasonable decision on that point. Even backers insisted the measure would not affect contraceptive access or fertility treatments. But opponents expressed strong concerns to the contrary, with physicians who treat infertility among the most vocal critics.

The bill would bestow “all the rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state” on “unborn children … from the moment of conception until birth at every stage of biological development.”

The language led to endless debate over just exactly what the legal consequences of the measure would be. Theories abounded, with some observers wondering if embryos would have to be counted in the census and also have to have Social Security numbers obtained for them.

Belief was widespread that the ultimate aim of the measure was to target legal abortion – a notion discounted by backers – but even some supporters agreed that it could not achieve that objective.

Caucus deliberations are supposed to be kept secret, so it’s not clear exactly how the decision against voting on the bill came about. One possibility is that some members may have come to the conclusion that passing the personhood measure could have done them as much damage as good. Elsewhere, such measures have evoked strong backlashes and even helped pro-choice groups with membership and fund-raising.

Regardless of their reasoning, GOP House members did the right thing. The personhood measure would not have achieved the desired aim of eradicating abortion and it surely would have resulted in some negative, unintended consequences, not the least of which would have been a costly lawsuit.

The issue hasn’t gone away, though. A petition drive is under way to get a personhood amendment onto the statewide ballot in November. So it looks like we’ll be going through the second round of the same debate in coming months.

Posted in: Oklahoma