a bird and a bottle

It’s Not All Bad.
May 7, 2007, 11:11 am
Filed under: civil rights, law, news, politics, reproductive justice

I’ve been writing angry a lot recently. So much doom and gloom. Particularly since the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart a few weeks ago.

But not today. Or at least, not this post. Because I’ve got a reproductive justice victory (!) to report on. And believe it or not that victory occurred in one of the reddest states.

Last Friday, I was able to take part in a conference call with reproductive rights advocates from Oklahoma. The advocates — doctors, lawyers, and even a sewing circle! — in April helped defeat SB 714 (PDF), a bill that would have prohibited the provision of abortions at state funded hospitals except for to save the life of the woman. After the bill passed in the state legislature, the governor, who has a mixed record on abortion rights, vetoed it. A veto override in the state senate failed.

The situation for reproductive rights in Oklahoma is pretty bleak: There are only 3 abortion providers, 96% of counties are without abortion services, planned parenthood does not provide abortions, and there is nowhere in the state to procure an abortion after 17 weeks. SB 714, had it become law, would have made it even more difficult for women to terminate their pregnancies in the state.

After listening in on the conference call (which was organized by the wonderful women at National Advocates for Pregnant Women), a few things were clear. First of all, the call made clear the importance of coalition building. The bill was defeated in large part because doctors spoke out against it. The governor — and most importantly, the senator who provided the decisive vote on the override — listened to the doctors. While it’s frustrating that the voices of women were not strong enough, it’s also vital to recognize how powerful the alliances between the medical community and the legal/political activist community can be. Also, I now know that sewing circles don’t necessarily involve sewing. As the circle’s leader Wanda Jo Stapleton put it, “We comfort the needy and needle the comfortable.”

Unfortunately, while the import of this victory is clear, the fight may not be over. The veto override failed, but only one by one vote. A Democrat state senator, Charlie Laster, originally voted for the bill but, after listening to the doctors’ advocacy, changed his mind and voted to uphold the veto.

The activists who took part in the conference call worry that the bill may yet reemerge, since a re-vote on the veto override can happen at any time until this legislative session ends one year from now (OK has two-year sessions). So they’re continuing to work together to fight for reproductive justice in OK. You can help shore up their efforts and build on their victories here.

7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Is there any particular way doctors helped in Oklahoma but not in other states, where restrictions on abortion did pass?

Comment by Alon Levy

It’s a good question, Alon. I think that activists have been trying to mobilize doctors around the country. My sense is that this effort was successful (1) because the governor was willing to listen and (2) because local organizations that don’t normally take a stance on a “political” issue realized that this was a medical issue too.

Truth be told, though, mobilization only does so much. With a different governor or one fewer vote in the senate, it would have been a loss in OK too. Which is just to say that even people who don’t think that repro rights is “their issue” need to remember that it is an issue particularly starkly effected by the outcome of elections.

Comment by bean

These doctors sat with us in the galleries, lobbied individual legislators, appeared on TV and weren’t afraid to state their opposition to this horrible bill.

The advocates for the bill state that it was to keep taxpayer money from paying for abortions. When this was the case it was a two page bill. By the time it reached the governor it was nearly 30 pages long.

Comment by MCYD

Thanks for the insight, MCYD. Can I ask: do you think that the doctors in OK were more active than doctors in other states or in other battles in your state have been?

Comment by bean

I think the doctors in OK were particularly involved because the bill was threatening their ability to practice good medicine. Even the doctors who don’t work at the major state facility often refer patients there. Honestly, I think that they just got angry that the state legislature was going to tell them how to practice medicine – and it reached farther than just abortion. I can’t really speak to other state struggles, but I have never seen such a broad group of medical professionals rally against an anti-choice bill before.

Comment by abrune

I guess the question is: why were the doctors listened to in OK as opposed to in other places. The Supreme Court, for example, in its decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, completely disregarded the doctors’ cries that to uphold the federal abortion ban would limit their ability to practice.

Comment by bean

That is a good point bean. And I think too that it’s important to note that the Oklahoma State Representatives totally disregarded the physicians as experts when this particular bill was being addressed in the House. The only physician in the OK state legislature tried unsuccessfully to ammend the bill. Many doctors were silenced by republicans at committee meetings. However, it was the Governor and the democratic Senators that opened up their ears to hear the doctor’s voices.

My guess – the Supreme Court did not want to hear the facts or the doctors (well, at least the particular Supreme Court Justices that I have in mind).

Comment by abrune

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