First, the good news: The Alabama ballot referendum we discussed last week, which, if approved by voters in November, would've amended the state's constitution to codify fetuses as persons, is "essentially dead" at this point. This according to Republican state representative Ed Henry, the bill's sponsor and author.
The bill would've criminalized abortion in Alabama as a form of murder, though specific punishments against women who have the procedure aren't enumerated in the text. Democrats in the state House successfully filibustered the bill, stalling it long enough to hit the end of the legislative session. Of course, it can always be reintroduced next time, and knowing how viral these anti-choice laws have become, we shouldn't expect it to completely go away.
Indeed, the notion of fetal personhood is one of the most pervasive reproductive Jim Crow laws being actively peddled at both the state and federal levels. Rand Paul, whose libertarianism ends at women's reproductive systems, has twice introduced fetal personhood amendments in the U.S. Senate, and we can anticipate many more attempts as time goes on, chiefly due to the fact that it's the ultimate anti-choice stab at ending legal abortions, while leading us closer to prosecuting women who retain control over their uteruses as murderers at best and participating in a genocide at worst.
Yes, that was the good news.
While the rest of us are obsessively refreshing Nate Silver's primary forecasts -- as well as simultaneously engaging in Twitter wars over the presidential candidates -- only seven states are controlled by Democratic governors backed with Democratic state legislatures. Twenty-three states, meanwhile, are fully controlled by Republicans, while the rest are divided between the parties. In other words, the presidential race seems comparatively trivial in relation to a roster of serious issues, including reproductive rights, Medicaid expansion, voting rights and, as we're witnessing in North Carolina and elsewhere, LGBT rights -- just to name a few.
And now, the bad news.
In Oklahoma, one of the states fully controlled by the GOP, legislators quietly passed a bill that would strip doctors who perform abortions of their medical licenses. The only exception noted in the legislation is for abortions in cases of life-threatening complications for pregnant mothers. So far, the bill has yet to be signed by the state's Republican governor, Mary Fallin, who is an anti-choice extremist who believes in personhood and 14th Amendment protections for the unborn, while opposing embryonic stem cell research. It's also worth reporting that Fallin pledged to de-fund Planned Parenthood based on a series of deceptively-edited videos, even though they've been debunked by multiple nonpartisan fact-checkers, as well as numerous red-state investigations.
Planned Parenthood’s Executive Vice President, Dawn Laguens, said about the bill, “This is a ban on abortion, plain and simple. Punishing doctors for performing a legal, medical procedure is an assault on women.” She continued, “As a health care provider, we have seen the very real and very disastrous impact these bills have on women's lives. Women are forced to drive hundreds of miles, and across state lines. Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of this extreme agenda.”
So, yes, Fallin will likely sign the bill, leaving only the courts to overturn it. It's unlikely that a legislative solution will present itself, either, since the Democrats in Oklahoma, even conservative Dems who voted for this bill, are an endangered species -- outnumbered two-to-one. (Oklahoma, by the way, might be nice place for disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters to continue their candidate's political revolution by infiltrating state and local politics to correct the course of ridiculously lopsided and wholly dangerous laws being passed there and elsewhere.)
Make no mistake, the Oklahoma law would completely ban abortion in the state. Despite the continued existence of legal abortion services in Oklahoma so far, the abortion rate there has dropped by nearly half over the last 20 years. From 1991 to 2011, Oklahoma's abortion rate has declined parallel to the nation decline, dropping from 12.8 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age, to 7.8 abortions per 1,000. This can be at least partially attributed to the existence of a menu of anti-choice laws on the books there, including (per the Guttmacher Institute):
"• A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.
• Abortion is covered in private insurance policies only in cases of life endangerment.
• The parent of a minor must consent and be notified before an abortion is provided.
• An abortion may be performed at or after 20 weeks postfertilization (22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period) only if the woman’s life is endangered or if her physical health is severely compromised, based on the spurious assertion that a fetus can feel pain at that point."
The new law waiting for Governor Fallin's signature is more clever than these since it doesn't outright ban abortions, but rather punishes doctors for "unprofessional conduct," according to the text of the bill. Put another way, it doesn't ban abortion, it just eliminates the facilities in which to have one. In terms the Republicans might understand: It's not a matter of banning extra-large sodas, which the GOP hates. It's more like banning McDonald's, which Republicans would see as a trespass against freedom, liberty and low-density lipoproteins. Sure, there might be a handful of doctors who will continue to provide abortion services at the risk of losing their licenses, but doing so would involve career suicide along with years of legal headaches.
All told, the Oklahoma law is both deadly and nefariously clever. Laws like this are multiplying faster than they can be thwarted, and as the Democratic Party grows increasingly weaker with most activists focusing on the White House and Congress (in that order), Republicans will grow more successful and more unaccountable, state-by-state. And while they do, the window for prosecuting women and medical professionals will widen. At this point, there's no indication whatsoever that the pendulum will reverse, turning state legislative sessions into the slow-motion destruction of sovereignty over the reproductive organs and choices of women everywhere. I told you this was bad news.