OKLAHOMA CITY, February 16, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - By an overwhelming majority, the Oklahoma Senate declared yesterday that human life begins at the moment of conception when a personhood bill cleared the legislative body by a vote of 34 to 8.
The vote comes days after the Virginia House of Delegates passed a similar personhood measure.
The Oklahoma bill, introduced by Sen. Brian Crain, is expected to pass the Republican controlled House as well, and will then head to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin for signature.
Fallin has not commented on the legislation, but has a strong pro-life voting record as a Governor and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“This bill is one of many Senate Republicans have advanced which affirms the right to life and I am proud to support it,” Senate Pro Tempore President Brian Bingman, told Reuters.
In an interview with LifeSiteNews Keith Mason at Personhood USA urged pro-life activists in the state to “flood” House legislators with calls in support of the bill.
Dan Skerbitz, Director of Personhood Oklahoma, the state affiliate, praised the passage of the bill in the Senate. “Personhood Oklahoma is pleased to see the Oklahoma pro-life movement coalescing around and defending the personhood rights of all people, born and preborn,” he said. “And we are looking forward to working with Oklahoma’s personhood supporters to make it a permanent part of the State Constitution.”
Senate leaders have said that the law is modeled after a Missouri statute that was upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1989 decision Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services.
Language from the Oklahoma law, such as the pronouncement that “unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being,” was copied directly from the Missouri law.
While upholding the statute, the Court ruled in Webster that the statute’s language had no binding legal force in terms of restricting abortion. But while the Missouri law specifically directed that its enforcement was subject to the Supreme Court’s “decisional interpretations” of the Constitution, that language is absent from the recent Oklahoma law.
The Oklahoma proposal sparked a bitter debate in the state legislature. One pro-abortion Senator, Constance Johnson, introduced a sarcastic amendment to the bill directing that any ejaculation that does not occur during vaginal intercourse “shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.”
In an op-ed published last week in the Guardian, Johnson, who later withdrew the amendment, said she had introduced it to make a point about what she considers the inherently sexist nature of personhood legislation.
Echoing a claim made by the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, Johnson argued that the law could make a woman subject to prosecution simply for miscarrying a pregnancy.
The legislation, however, specifically mandates that no part of it be interpreted as “creating a cause of action” against a woman who indirectly harms her unborn child simply by failing to care for herself while pregnant.
Personhood Oklahoma said that it is also preparing to launch a citizen-led initiative to add an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that recognizes the right to life of every person.