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Policy: Law

Abortion bills clear Oklahoma House committee

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Two measures to further restrict abortion in Oklahoma easily cleared a House committee on Tuesday over the objection of outnumbered Democrats who argue the bills are unnecessary.

The first bill that the House Public Safety Committee approved would require abortion providers to have clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice, while the second would restrict the use of abortion-inducing drugs. Both measures head to the full House.

The bills are among several anti-abortion measures that have been introduced this year in Oklahoma's Republican-controlled Legislature, which has become a testing ground for some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Rep. Mike Ritze, an osteopathic physician, said his clinical privileges bill is identical to one approved in Texas and is designed to provide a safety mechanism for women who may develop complications as the result of an abortion.

"It's a safety issue. A person can hemorrhage to death very quickly," said Ritze, R-Broken Arrow. "If you're dealing with minutes to save somebody ... you better have a backup plan in place."

Oklahoma already has a law that requires doctors to either have privileges or an agreement with a local doctor with privileges, prompting the head of Oklahoma's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to question the need for Ritze's measure.

"We're being given a rationale that's grounded in providing a safe atmosphere for Oklahoma's women, but at the end of the day that's just smoke and mirrors," said ACLU director Ryan Kiesel, a former Democratic state legislator. "This is more about politics than anything else."

Rep. Randy Grau, who wrote the bill targeting the use of abortion-inducing drugs, said his measure is in direct response to a recent decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which said Grau's 2011 bill to limit the use of the drugs to U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved protocols was unconstitutional.

The court determined that bill effectively banned all drug-induced abortions in the state, a decision with which Grau disagreed.

"The court didn't think our language was clear enough ... so we're essentially clarifying the definitions," said Grau, R-Edmond.

His new bill also specifically states that the intent of the law is not to prevent the off-label use of drugs for the treatment of potentially life-threatening ectopic pregnancies in which a fertilized egg develops outside of a woman's womb.

The courts have shot down several other anti-abortion measures in Oklahoma as unconstitutional. They include one that would have required women seeking abortions to be shown an ultrasound image while hearing a description of the fetus and another granting "personhood" status to a fertilized human egg.

"The courts have said women have a fundamental right to reproductive health care, and the Legislature seems to be determined to ignore that right," said Martha Skeeters, who wore pink at Tuesday's hearing along with several other members of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. Their clothing was meant to draw attention to their efforts to promote the rights of women in the state.

"It's really unfortunate that state legislators seem to be determined to waste the taxpayers' money by passing laws that are clearly unconstitutional and that the state will have to defend," she said.

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