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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Despite court rulings rejecting several anti-abortion measures approved by the Oklahoma Legislature, lawmakers will continue a push for more restrictions in 2013, with bills to grant "personhood" status to fertilized human eggs and limit the ability of minors to terminate a pregnancy without parental notification.
Oklahoma's legislators already had a reputation for producing some of the most far-reaching abortion bills in the country, and now Republicans hold their largest majorities in the House and Senate since statehood and have an anti-abortion governor leading them. Just last week the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life ranked Oklahoma the No. 2 "most protective state" for its abortion laws.
But while Oklahoma lawmakers are eager to keep pushing for tougher anti-abortion laws, state courts have soundly rejected several proposed new laws as unconstitutional.
In December, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck two previously passed abortion laws — one requiring women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound image placed in front of them while they hear a description of the fetus and another banning off-label use of certain abortion-inducing drugs. The state's highest court previously rejected as unconstitutional a proposal that would have placed a "personhood" initiative before Oklahoma votes.
A separate Senate-passed personhood bill died in the Oklahoma House last year after Republicans voted privately in caucus not to hear it on the House floor amid opposition from the medical community that it would dramatically limit reproductive medicine, research and the use of certain forms of birth control.
Despite the legal setbacks and the rancor that the personhood bill caused within the House Republican caucus, state Rep. Mike Reynolds has filed a similar bill this year.
"Is that a reason to say human life doesn't begin at conception?" said Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, who said he isn't deterred by opponents in the medical community or the chamber of commerce who argue such a bill would be a setback to biomedical research.
"I guess they better quit experimenting with human zygotes," said Reynolds, who said he has another bill that would ban embryonic stem cell research in Oklahoma.
New House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, touted the "pro-life" credentials of the 72-member strong House Republican caucus, but neither he nor Rep. Pam Peterson, the new floor leader in the House, endorsed the personhood proposal when asked about it last week.
"I think we can be assured that we will have a pro-life Legislature," Shannon said during a legislative forum hosted by The Associated Press. "Now, which bills will be indicative of that, I'm not sure yet. They'll just have to work their way through the process."
Page 2 of 2 - Shannon also said he's given his newly appointed chairmen instructions to take a close look at whether proposed bills may be unconstitutional, given a recent history of laws getting shot down in the courts.
"I'm asking our legal research team to be a lot more thoughtful about constitutionality because, frankly, there is a cost to that when you have to adjudicate it at the state level, so that needs to be a consideration too," Shannon said.
Shannon also encouraged his members to think beyond abortion when discussing "pro-life" legislation to include topics like human trafficking and improvements to the state's child-welfare system.
"Yes, we need to be committed to pro-life, but I think it's time we expand that definition, that it's not solely based on before birth. I think it needs to be at all stages of life," Shannon said.
Among the key abortion bills being endorsed this year by Oklahomans for Life, an influential anti-abortion lobbying group at the state Capitol, is one that would eliminate a provision in state law that allows young women to receive an abortion without parental notification if they obtain a judge's approval.
"Right now there is a judicial bypass procedure that can be opted for instead of a parent being notified, and we believe that that avenue is widely abused by the abortion industry and that girls are funneled to judges who are accepting of abortion as a handy solution to an unwanted pregnancy for a teenager," said Tony Lauinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life.
But abortion rights supporters say judicial bypass is essential for teenagers facing an unwanted pregnancy who might suffer abuse from parents or guardians who learn of the pregnancy.
"If a minor doesn't have that option of going to a neutral judge and getting authorization to have an abortion, she could end up in a really bad situation," said Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which has successfully challenged several Oklahoma abortion laws.
Toti, who described Oklahoma as a "laboratory for anti-choice measures," said the group is concerned that state lawmakers continue to push abortion bills that violate provisions set out by the U.S. Supreme Court 40 years ago in its landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
"We are certainly concerned that state officials continue to want to spend their time and the taxpayer's resources on laws that are clearly unconstitutional and harmful to women," she said.