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Ga., Miss., Okla., Lawmakers Consider Antiabortion Legislation

Ga., Miss., Okla., Lawmakers Consider Antiabortion Legislation

April 26, 2010 — The following summarizes legislative action on antiabortion-rights bills in three states.

~ Georgia: The House Rules Committee could vote as early as Tuesday on whether to send to the floor a controversial antiabortion bill (SB 529) that calls for jail time for abortion providers if they perform the procedure after learning that a woman was coerced to terminate the pregnancy because of the fetus' sex or race, the Macon Telegraph reports. The bill, which is dividing the state Republican caucus, is "one step in a larger effort to argue abortion law before the U.S. Supreme Court," the Telegraph writes. The legislation originated from Georgia Right to Life, which says it hopes the measure's references to race and sex will propel it to the Supreme Court. Some Republicans tried to remove those references, but GRTL threatened to oppose the measure if they did, so the original bill was left intact (Fain, Macon Telegraph, 4/26).

~ Mississippi: The Mississippi House voted 75-32 Saturday in favor of a bill (SB 3214) -- titled the "Federal Abortion-Mandate Opt-Out Act" -- that prohibits insurers from offering health plans that include abortion coverage in the insurance exchanges that will be formed under the new national health reform law (PL 111-148), the AP/Biloxi Sun Herald reports. The bill -- which the state Senate unanimously approved on Friday -- now goes to Gov. Haley Barbour (R). Opponents of the measure say it is unnecessary because a 2002 state law bans the use of federal, state and local tax funds for abortion. They contend that the bill is a way for lawmakers to pander to the state's social conservatives. Supporters say they want the state to specify that no public money could be used to fund abortion under the reform law (Wagster Pettus, AP/Biloxi Sun Herald, 4/24). The weekend vote came after a Republican House member blocked consideration of the budgets for two state agencies until House leadership scheduled a vote on the abortion bill. The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Alan Nunnelee (R), who is running for a U.S. House seat (Parker, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 4/24).

~ Oklahoma: Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (D) vetoed two antiabortion-rights bills Friday, "likely setting up an override battle" with the Republican-controlled Legislature, the Tulsa World reports. The first bill (HB 2780) sought to require women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasounds and listen to an explanation of the findings within one hour of the abortion procedure. The governor said the bill contained numerous flaws, including the lack of an exemption for rape and incest. He also said it would result in a costly and potentially futile legal battle. A court previously ruled that a similar measure was unconstitutional because it violated a state rule that laws address a single subject. Henry described HB 2780 as "an unconstitutional attempt by the Oklahoma Legislature to insert government into the private lives and decisions of its citizens." The second bill (HB 2656) sought to ban so-called "wrongful life" lawsuits against physicians who withhold information about a pregnancy or a fetus' health that might lead a woman to have an abortion. Henry said, "It is unconscionable to grant a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform a pregnant woman in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs" (Hoberock, Tulsa World, 4/24). Republicans in the Legislature quickly promised to hold override votes for both measures. State Rep. Mike Reynolds (R), a sponsor of both bills, said votes could take place this week. Republicans are in the majority in both the House and Senate, but they would need some Democratic support to obtain the three-fourths majority needed to override a gubernatorial veto (Murphy, AP/KOTV, 4/25). The Center for Reproductive Rights, which has launched successful legal challenges to Oklahoma laws in the past, praised Henry's actions. "We are very pleased that Gov. Henry vetoed these two extreme antiabortion measures," Stephanie Toti, a staff attorney at CRR, said. Henry signed a third bill (HB 3075) that would require abortion providers to post signs stating that a woman cannot be forced to undergo an abortion (Tulsa World, 4/24).