News Abortion

Oklahoma “Egg As Person” and Heartbeat Bills Pass House Committee

Robin Marty

If the state's voters don't want it, the legislature will just force it on them.

Tired of waiting for voters to simply agree with them that a fertilized egg should be provided the same rights as a fully born human, Personhood Oklahoma has decided to go through the legislature to give human rights to fertilized eggs.

A House committee has passed a “fertilized egg-as-person” bill, and preparations are now in progress to bring it up for a floor vote soon, despite the likelihood of a lawsuit if the bill passes.


“This is going to cost the taxpayers of Oklahoma money,” said Martha Skeeters, of Norman, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. About two dozen women from the group, many wearing pink shirts, listened to lawmakers debate the bill.

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“This is really outrageous,” Skeeters said. “It’s very disturbing that the committee fails to realize how dangerous this bill is for Oklahoma women. It interferes with the treatment of pregnant women.”

The bill was passed 10-1 in committee, where no one was allowed to testify for or against it.  While they were at it, the committee also approved a bill that would make women who want to terminate their pregnancies listen to the heartbeat of the embryo or fetus first.

Despite legislation working its way through the political system, Personhood Oklahoma is pursuing its ballot initiative as well.

Analysis Law and Policy

State-Level Attacks on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Continue, But There’s Also Some Good News

Rachel Benson Gold & Elizabeth Nash

Despite the ongoing attention to restricting abortion, legislators in several states are looking to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services and education.

State legislatures came into session in January and quickly focused on a range of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. By the end of the first quarter, legislators in 45 states had introduced 1,021 provisions. Of the 411 abortion restrictions that have been introduced so far this year, 17 have passed at least one chamber, and 21 have been enacted in five states (Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Utah).

This year’s legislative sessions are playing out on a crowded stage. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case involving a package of abortion restrictions in Texas; that decision, when handed down in June, could reshape the legal landscape for abortion at the state level. Moreover, just as state legislatures were hitting their stride in late March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revised the labeling for mifepristone, one of the two drugs used for medication abortion. That decision immediately put the issue back on the front burner by effectively counteracting policies restricting access to medication abortion in a handful of states. (Notably, the Arizona legislature moved within days to enact a measure limiting the impact of the FDA decision in the state.)

Progress on Several Fronts 

Despite the ongoing attention to restricting abortion, legislators in several states are looking to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services and education. By the end of the first quarter, legislators in 32 states had introduced 214 proactive measures; of these, 16 passed at least one legislative body, and two have been enacted. (This is nearly the same amount introduced in the year 2015, when 233 provisions were introduced.)

Although the proactive measures introduced this year span a wide range of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, three approaches have received particular legislative attention:

  • Allowing a 12-month contraceptive supply. Legislators in 16 states have introduced measures to allow pharmacists to dispense a year’s supply of contraceptives at one time; these bills would also require health plans to reimburse for a year’s supply provided at once. (In addition, a bill pending in Maryland would cover a six-month supply.) Legislative chambers in three states (Hawaii, New York, and Washington) have approved measures. Similar measures are in effect in Oregon and the District of Columbia.
  • Easing contraceptive access through pharmacies. Legislators in 12 states have introduced measures to allow pharmacists to prescribe and dispense hormonal contraceptives. As of March 31, bills have been approved by at least one legislative chamber in Hawaii and Iowa and enacted in Washington. The measures in Hawaii and Iowa would require pharmacist training, patient counseling, and coverage by insurance; the Hawaii measure would apply only to adults, while the Iowa measure would apply to both minors and adults. The new Washington law directs the state’s Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission to develop a notice that will be displayed at a pharmacy that prescribes and dispenses self-administered hormonal contraception. Under current state law, a pharmacy may prescribe and dispense these contraceptives under a collaborative practice agreement with an authorized prescriber. Oregon has a similar measure in effect. (California, the only other state with such a law, issued regulations in early April.)
  • Expanding education on sexual coercion. Measures are pending in 17 states to incorporate education on dating violence or sexual assault into the sex or health education provided in the state. A bill has been approved by one legislative chamber in both New Hampshire and New York. The measure approved by the New Hampshire Senate would require age-appropriate education on child sexual abuse and healthy relationships for students from kindergarten through grade 12. The measure approved by the New York Senate would mandate education on child sexual abuse for students from kindergarten through grade 8. And finally, in March, Virginia enacted a comprehensive new law requiring medically accurate and age-appropriate education on dating violence, sexual assault, healthy relationships, and the importance of consensual sexual activity for students from kindergarten through grade 12. Virginia will join 21 other states that require instruction on healthy relationships.

Ongoing Assault on Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services

Even as many legislators are working to expand access to services, others are continuing their now years-long assault on sexual and reproductive health services and rights. Restricting access to abortion continues to garner significant attention. However, last year’s release of a series of deceptively edited sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood has swept both the family planning safety net and biomedical research involving fetal tissue into the fray.

  • Abortion bans. Legislative attempts to ban abortion fall along a broad continuum, from measures that seek to ban all or most abortions to those aimed at abortions performed after the first trimester of pregnancy or those performed for specific reasons.
    • Banning all or most abortions. Legislators in nine states have introduced measures to ban all or most abortions in the state, generally by either granting legal “personhood” to a fetus at the moment of conception or prohibiting abortions at or after six weeks of pregnancy. Only one of these measures, a bill in Oklahoma that would put performing an abortion outside the bounds of professional conduct by a physician, has been approved by a legislative chamber.
    • Banning D&E abortions. Legislators in 13 states have introduced measures to ban the most common technique used in second-trimester abortions. Of these, a bill in West Virginia was enacted in March over the veto of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D). A similar measure was approved by both houses of the Mississippi legislature and is being considered by a conference committee. (Kansas and Oklahoma enacted similar laws last year, but enforcement of both has been blocked by court action.)
    • Banning abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization. South Dakota and Utah both enacted measures seeking to block abortions at 20 weeks during the first quarter of the year. The new South Dakota law explicitly bans abortions at 20 weeks post-fertilization (which is equivalent to 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period). The Utah measure requires the use of anesthesia for the fetus when an abortion is performed at or after that point, something that providers would be extremely unlikely to do because of the increased risk to the woman’s health. In addition to these new measures, 12 other states ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization.
  • Banning abortion for specific reasons. In March, Indiana enacted a sweeping measure banning abortions performed because of gender, race, national origin, ancestry, or fetal anomaly; no other state has adopted such a broad measure. The Oklahoma House approved a measure to ban abortion in the case of a fetal genetic anomaly; the state already bans abortion for purposes of sex selection. Currently, seven states ban abortion for the purpose of gender selection, including one state that also bans abortion based on race selection and one that also bans abortion due to fetal genetic anomaly.
  • Family planning funding restrictions. In the wake of the Planned Parenthood videos, several states have sought to limit funding to family planning health centers that provide or refer for abortion or that are affiliated with abortion providers. These efforts are taking different forms across states.
    • Medicaid. Measures to exclude abortion providers (e.g., Planned Parenthood affiliates) from participating in Medicaid have been introduced in five states, despite the clear position of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that such exclusions are not permitted under federal law. In March, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a Medicaid restriction into law. By the end of the first quarter, measures had passed one chamber of the legislature in Arizona, Mississippi, and Missouri; a measure introduced in Washington has not been considered. (A related measure enacted in Wisconsin in February limits reimbursement for contraceptive drugs for Medicaid recipients.)

Similar attempts by six other states have been blocked by court action since 2010. These measures include laws adopted by Indiana and Arizona as well as administrative actions taken in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

  • Other family planning funds. Legislators in 13 states have introduced measures to prevent state or federal funds that flow through state agencies from being distributed to organizations that provide, counsel, or refer for abortions; the measures would also deny funds to any organization affiliated with an entity engaging in these activities. Measures in three of these states have received significant legislative attention. In February, Wisconsin enacted a measure directing the state to apply for Title X funds (the state is not currently a grantee under the program); if the state’s application were approved, the measure would ban this funding from going to organizations that engage in abortion care-related activity. A measure that would deny funds to organizations engaged in abortion care-related activity passed the Kentucky Senate in February. A similar measure in Virginia, which would both prohibit an abortion provider from receiving funding and give priority to public entities (such as health centers operated by health departments) in the allocation of state family planning funds was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in March.
  • Related funds. In February, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a measure barring abortion providers or their affiliates from receiving federal funds passing through the state treasury to support breast and cervical cancer screening; sex education; and efforts to prevent infertility, HIV in minority communities, violence against women, and infant mortality.
  • Fetal tissue research. The Planned Parenthood videos have also led to legislation in 28 states aimed at research involving fetal tissue. Measures have passed one legislative chamber in four states (Alabama, Iowa, Idaho, and Kentucky), and new laws have been enacted in four states (Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and South Dakota) in the first quarter alone. All four laws ban the donation of fetal tissue for purposes of research. These new laws are the first to ever ban the donation of fetal tissue. The Arizona law also bans research using fetal tissue, and the new South Dakota law strengthens the state’s existing ban by now considering fetal tissue research as a felony; four other states (Indiana, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma) have similar provisions in effect.

Zohra Ansari-Thomas, Olivia Cappello, and Lizamarie Mohammed all contributed to this analysis.

Analysis Politics

Campaign Fact-Check: Would Cruz Ban Abortion as President?

Ally Boguhn

Taking Ted Cruz’s assertion that banning abortion should be a decision left up to voters at face value ignores the candidate's drumbeat of extremism on the topic.

Appearing on a special town hall edition of Fox News’ Kelly File Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) fielded a question from an audience member asking whether he would outlaw abortion if elected president. The next day, Fox ran an article misleadingly claiming that Cruz said “he wouldn’t make abortion illegal, if elected president, though he is pro-life.”

In truth, Cruz’s answer carefully downplayed his anti-choice record in order to claim that decision should ultimately be left up to voters “at the ballot box”:

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I consider myself a moderate Republican and I’m pro-choice. One of my fears and concerns is that if you become president, you may make abortion illegal nationwide. So, what’s your message to me and other women and men regarding that issue and that fear?

CRUZ: Thank you for joining us, thank you for coming out. You know, the issue of life has been an issue that has torn this country apart for many, many decades. And my view, I’m pro-life, I believe that we should protect every human life and we should protect every life from the moment of conception.

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And I will say, there is more and more consensus we’re seeing on this issue, as we see, for example, people coming together to bar extreme practices, things like “partial-birth abortion,” where we’re saying large consensuses of American people saying this practice is gruesome, it’s barbaric. It is my hope that we see people’s hearts and minds change, but this is an issue where it’s going to take time for people’s hearts and minds to change. That if you’re going to change a major issue of public policy, the way to do so, I believe, is at the ballot box.

You know, I have, my whole life I have been a passionate defender of the Constitution and I think judicial activism is wrong. One of the worst things about the Supreme Court in 1973 stepping in and seizing this issue is it took it out of control of the people. It said that five unelected judges will decide this issue, rather than 330 million Americans. I believe under our Constitution we have a democratic society, and that if someone wants to pass legislation limiting or expanding abortion, the way to do that is to convince your fellow citizens to make the case at the ballot box. And I think that ultimately is the check for both your views and my views that you’ve got to convince our fellow citizens, but I think all of us should agree that it’s a much better system to have important public policy issues decided by the people at the ballot box rather than five unelected lawyers just imposing their views on everybody else.

First, Cruz points to so-called partial-birth abortion, an inflammatory non-medical term used to describe the dilation and extraction abortion procedure (D and X). The National Right to Life Committee coined the term in 1995 in order to make passing anti-abortion laws easier. President George W. Bush signed a ban on the procedure into law in 2003, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision, though the law contains no exact medical definition of what the procedure is, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Taking Cruz’s assertion that banning abortion should be a decision left up to voters at face value ignores the candidate’s drumbeat of extremism on the topic. Just two months ago, Cruz released a nearly five-minute long anti-choice video in which, contrary to his statements on the Kelly File, he vowed to “do everything” within his power as president to end abortion if elected.

“As president of the United States, I pledge to you that I will do everything within my power to end the scourge of abortion once and for all,” claimed Cruz in the video. “That I will use the full constitutional power and the bully pulpit of the presidency to promote a culture of life. That I will sign any legislation put on my desk to defend the least of these, including legislation that defends the right of all persons, without exception other than the life of the mother, from conception to natural death.”

On the campaign trail, Cruz consistently promotes anti-choice extremism as a key component of his platform. The Republican presidential candidate even announced in January the formation of “Pro-Lifers for Cruz,” a coalition of anti-choice proponents led by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and including Troy Newman, head of the radical group Operation Rescue.

The Texas senator’s self-defined “pro-life” commitment has prompted him to support numerous pieces of legislation that would effectively ban abortion. Cruz’s February campaign video included a note about “enthusiastically supporting” a South Carolina “personhood” bill that would give fetuses, embryos, and fertilized eggs full constitutional rights, ending legal abortion and access to many forms of hormonal birth control, such as the pill and IUD. Cruz threw his support behind a similar measure in Georgia in August. In December, Cruz told Catholic television station EWTN that congressional action on a personhood measure could “absolutely” be used in order to ban abortion. Given Cruz’s vow to sign all anti-choice measures, it is likely such a bill would become law under his presidency—leading to a nationwide abortion ban.


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