Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that should have anyone who cares about equal rights here take a deep breath and consider just how far the GOP will go in its continued war against women’s reproductive freedoms.
The bill, House Bill 2015, adds to the absurd and intimidating morass of reporting and paperwork physicians and patients must now complete whenever there is an abortion procedure. Alone that should be enough to significantly bother anyone who believes in women’s reproductive freedom, which is the major cornerstone of gender equality.
But the bill also added a new provision that would actually allow taxpayers, whether they are involved in a specific abortion or not, to sue doctors if they believe they are not meeting the requirements of the reporting law. Although this new provision seems entirely unconstitutional, it does have the potential to further intimidate physicians who perform abortions here.
The bill passed 79-15, with seven excused in the House, and 39-7, with two excused in the Senate. Its principal sponsors were state Rep. Sean Roberts, a Hominy Republican and state Sen. Kyle Loveless, an Oklahoma City Republican. The overwhelming vote majorities show the state legislature for the foreseeable future will continue to hassle abortion providers and their patients in a quest to end legalize abortion, which would have to happen by an unlikely U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
According to one media report, Fallin and the bill’s principal sponsors said the bill was needed to ensure doctors were complying with the law, but the added reporting requirements and making an lawsuit option available to people-let’s face it-who are simply opposed to abortion and will do about anything to stop it obviously make it a legal measure of intimidation and harassment.
Here is some of the language of the new reporting requirements in the bill:
Were the remains of the fetus after the abortion examined to ensure that all such remains were evacuated from the mother’s body?
If the remains of the fetus were examined after the abortion, what was the sex of the child, as determined from such examination?
. . .
Prior to the pregnant woman giving informed consent to
having any part of the abortion performed or induced, if the
pregnancy was at least eight (8) weeks after fertilization, was the pregnant woman told that it may be possible to make the embryonic or fetal heartbeat of the unborn child audible for the pregnant woman to hear?
Note the old anti-abortion tropes that somehow women are getting abortions because of the sex of the fetus, which is a myth in this country, and the standard implication that hearing a fetal heartbeat SHOULD be some moral litmus test when it comes to abortion. Again, women should have the right to a private, non-intimating abortion procedure and physicians should be allowed to perform the procedure under accepted medical guidelines without the intrusion of anti-abortion dogma.
Here’s the language concerning the taxpayer lawsuit option in the bill:
If an abortion provider fails to submit any report required pursuant to Section 1-738k of this title, upon the refusal, failure or neglect of the State Commissioner of Health, within twenty (20) days after written demand signed, verified and served upon the State Department of Health by at least ten registered voters of the state, to institute or diligently prosecute proper proceedings at law or in equity to compel an abortion provider to submit any report required pursuant to Section 1-738k of this title but not yet submitted to the State Department of Health, any resident taxpayer of the state after serving the notice aforesaid may in the name of the State of Oklahoma as plaintiff, institute and maintain any proper action which the State Department of Health might institute and maintain to compel the abortion provider to file such report. If a court of competent jurisdiction determines the claims to be meritorious, the abortionist shall be compelled to file the report and to pay the fee(s) prescribed in subsection B of this section, with costs and reasonable attorney fees. If all claims stated by the resident taxpayers in the written demand are determined in a court of competent jurisdiction to be frivolous and brought in bad faith, the resident taxpayers who signed such demand and who are parties to the lawsuit in which such claims are determined to be frivolous and brought in bad faith shall be jointly and severally liable for all reasonable attorney fees and court costs incurred by the abortionist.
Beyond the excruciatingly awful legalese of this passage, note that the taxpayer who brings the suit may do so “in the name of the state of Oklahoma as plaintiff.” Note also the use of the word “abortionist” to refer to a physicians who perform the abortion procedure. Obviously, the bill is actively trying to encourage such lawsuits against “abortionists,” but without any legal standing or personal damage how could such a plaintiff really make a claim?
Can you imagine a legal system in which virtually anyone could file a lawsuit against you in the name of the state in which you live because they disagree with you on a political issue? If this provision is upheld, then the door is wide open to this sort of legal abuse and political intimidation.
Oklahoma has passed several anti-abortion laws in recent years that have made it more of a hassle to get the procedure performed here. This is because the state government is dominated by right-wing, religious folks who have supposedly made stopping abortion a priority. But the GOP, with the help of some Democrats, has also made it a visceral, wedge issue to manipulate religious Christian fundamentalists into voting against their financial interests. That political strategy has continued to be effective here, but make no mistake that the social costs here and the damage to the state’s national image have been high.
Intrinsic to gender equality is the idea that women control their own bodies and make their own decisions about their bodies. If women lose that right here, and such control is given to the state, then women will lose even more rights in the future, such as access to birth control and even beyond that. That a female governor signed this terrible bill into law should be an affront to all the state’s women, but, tragically, that won’t be the case. The wake-up call has yet to be heard, but it will come someday.