Governor's Abortion Bill Veto Overridden

Thursday, April 17th 2008, 12:05 pm
By: News On 6

A bitter battle between the governor and the legislature has now resulted in a law that changes the way abortions are performed in Oklahoma.

Senate Bill 1878 requires women to have an ultrasound before they have an abortion. Governor Henry vetoed the bill, but the legislature reversed it with a two-thirds majority in both Houses.

The passing of this bill, the governor's veto and the override all happened within 24 hours. This is the first time that happened to Governor Henry and it's the first override in 14 years.

Thursday, harsh words were exchanged by the authors of the bill and the governor's staff.

"By denying women that have been raped that same opportunity, I was really kind of perplexed by that," Rep. Pam Peterson (R) District 67 said.

Representative Pam Peterson said that is what Governor Henry was doing by vetoing Senate Bill 1878. The bill mandates that prior to an abortion, ‘the doctor must perform an ultrasound, provide an explanation of the ultrasound, display the images to the pregnant woman, which include the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, organs and cardiac activity.'

It passed the House and Senate Wednesday but Governor Henry vetoed it because the bill did not exempt victims of rape or incest.

"What he's saying with that is that women that have been raped do not have the same access to information of women that haven't been raped," Peterson said.

"That is absolutely not true," Governor Henry's Spokesman Paul Sund said. "Every woman under the law now has the option to have all that information. The difference is this would have require victims of rape or incest whether they wanted it or not to go through this procedure."

Paul Sund said the veto was strictly meant to avoid re-victimizing rape and incest victims.

"Governor Henry thinks the victims have suffered enough and we ought to really try to protect them and not exploit them," Sund said.

But State Senator Todd Lamb believes the governor is the one who is misinformed. He points to this sentence from a statement the governor released which reads in part, ‘Forcing the procedure on them after the trauma they have already suffered government regulation gone wrong.' Despite the wording of the bill he co-authored with Peterson, Lamb said this is not a mandate and that ultrasounds are already done in most abortions performed in Oklahoma.

"They have to know the skeletal mass, the size of the baby in the womb," Sen. Tobb Lamb (R) District 47 said. "That ultrasound is already being conducted."

The Legislature agreed and by Thursday afternoon, it overrode the governor's veto, paving the way for the bill to become law.

"The will of the people have prevailed in the state of Oklahoma, so I'm happy with the victory we have today for the unborn," Lamb said.

Barring any legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union or other constitutional rights groups the bill is set to become law on November 1.

The law also protects healthcare workers who refuse to take part in abortion procedures. It regulates the use of the so-called ‘abortion pill.' And, it bans lawsuits that claim a child with disabilities would have been better off aborted.


Statement from Governor Brad Henry...

"I knew it would be an uphill battle to sustain the veto, but I thought it was important to fight to protect rape and incest victims from additional distress.  

"I do not think it is morally responsible for the state to victimize those victims a second time by forcing them to undergo an ultrasound and hear a detailed description of it after they have made the difficult and heartwrenching decision to end their pregnancy.  Under a law I previously signed, these women already have the option to request an ultrasound, but forcing the procedure on them after the trauma they have already suffered as a rape or incest victim is government regulation gone wrong.

"Pro-life Oklahomans have supported similar protections for rape and incest victims in the past, and I am disappointed that legislators were unwilling to afford similar protections in this measure.

"As I have said many times, I support reasonable restrictions on abortion procedures and have signed several such bills into law during my time in office.  I continue to be open to such reasonable measures, but I will not hesitate to oppose initiatives that go too far and ultimately do more harm than good.

"I want to thank all the legislators who stood with me today on this important issue.  Political operatives will undoubtedly attempt to distort this vote in the upcoming election, but the truth of the matter is these lawmakers simply did what they thought was right to protect rape and incest victims. That takes courage, and I appreciate that."