A bill that would prohibit the use of public funds for most abortions became law in Oklahoma after Democratic Governor Brad Henry failed to veto the bill before a deadline.
Henry had until midnight Wednesday to make his decision, according to a Reuters report. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Oklahoma House, 77-19, and made it through the Oklahoma Senate, although by a narrower margin. An aide to Henry, referring to the Governor’s failure to veto, noted that “If the Governor doesn’t act, it becomes law.”
Reuters notes that Henry had vetoed a previous bill because it did not allow for any exceptions to the ban on publicly funded abortions. The new bill allows an exception for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, but only if the victim reports the crime to the police. The Associated Press, in a parallel report, noted that medical professionals had opposed the earlier bill because it would have restricted them too severely in dealing with pregnant women, including even mentioning abortion as an option.
The reception to the bill’s passage is mixed. Social conservatives, who have long desired some restrictions on abortion, are pleased. Women’s rights groups can be expected to use the courts to challenge the new law, feeling that women, not the state, should make decisions regarding abortion.
One consequence of the law may be a decrease in the hospitals who can perform abortions in Oklahoma. Reuters quotes Linda Gray Murphy, a lobbyist with the National Association of Social Workers: “Virtually every hospital in the state of Oklahoma will no longer be allowed to do it (perform abortions). If you live in rural Oklahoma, your hospital probably receives state funding.”
The debate on the bill was emotional at times, with legislators concerned with how the bill would affect pregnant women. Representative Al Lindley, a Democrat, said, according to the Associated Press, “I’m for life, but this is bad public policy.” Representative Jeannie McDaniel, also a Democrat, was concerned that the bill would force some women to make “unhealthy choices.”
Abortion has become a polarizing issue in the United States. Against it are conservative Christians, the Roman Catholic Church, and other religious groups. Polls, however, show that most Americans are in favor of some abortion rights, but oppose specific issues such as late-term abortions.