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Anti-abortion measure stalls in Oklahoma House

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Sen. Greg Treat speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol earlier this year. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman]
Sen. Greg Treat speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol earlier this year. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman]

An anti-abortion bill that would ask Oklahoma voters to specify the state constitution does not protect the right to an abortion will not advance this legislative session.

But the bill’s author, reinvigorated by a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling that protects a woman’s right to an abortion, promised to revive the legislation next year, in time for the measure to go to a statewide vote during the 2020 general election.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat’s Senate Bill 195 failed to advance through the House before a legislative deadline last week. The proposed amendment to Oklahoma’s constitution would stipulate that no part of the document protects the right to perform or receive an abortion.

Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said he told House Speaker Charles McCall and House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Jon Echols he was indifferent on whether the legislation passed this year or next so long as the constitutional amendment made it on the ballot in 2020.

Treat’s bill passed through the Senate on a party-line vote, but did not advance through the House, which Treat attributed to House leadership’s preference to tackle the bill next year.

Citing a Kansas Supreme Court ruling from last week, Treat said constitutional language dismissing the right to an abortion is more important than ever before.

The court on Friday blocked a law that would have banned a specific abortion procedure, saying the Kansas Constitution protects a woman’s right to ”decide whether to continue a pregnancy.”

“It underscores the need for us to do something like Senate Bill 195,” Treat said Monday. He hopes a statewide vote on adding anti-abortion language to the state constitution could head off a situation like what happened in Kansas.

If Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established the right to an abortion, were ever overturned, abortion would still be legal in Kansas because of the state court’s ruling.

But the ruling already has Republican lawmakers in Kansas talking about asking voters to decide on a constitutional amendment to add an abortion ban to the state’s constitution.

State Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, has been one of the most outspoken critics of Treat’s legislation.

Part of that stems from the demise of Silk’s Senate Bill 13, which would have immediately reclassified abortion as a homicide. The bill was not heard in committee and Treat backed up that decision made by Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services committee.

Silk called Treat’s anti-abortion constitutional amendment a ploy for the Senate Pro Tem to save face among those opposed to abortion.

“He was just kind of fishing around for some kind of pro-life bill to sort of save face over the Senate Bill 13 deal,” he said.

Silk also said Treat’s constitutional amendment is unnecessary because Oklahoma’s constitution already guarantees the right to life, pointing to a section that guarantees the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry.

Nonetheless, Silk was confident Treat’s legislation will re-emerge during the 2020 session.

“I’m sure he’ll bring it up next year,” he said. “He’s pretty adamant on getting that piece of legislation passed and as you know, whenever those in power want something to happen up there in the Capitol, it’ll eventually get done one way or another.”

Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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