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April 24, 2012

Oklahoma House passes personhood resolution

STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma’s House of Representatives passed a symbolic resolution Tuesday stating life begins at conception, which supporters called an important declaration, while critics — including Stillwater Rep. Cory Williams — called the legally toothless resolution pointless and a waste of time.

The resolution states that a fertilized zygote from the moment of conception has full personhood and all accompanying human rights. Language in the resolution also states that personhood would not apply to in vitro fertilization until a fertilized egg is implanted in the mother. However, a resolution is simply a public declaration and has no effect on state statutes or other laws.

Rep. Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City, authored the resolution and was also a co-author on the personhood act, which had similar language and would have had a legal effect. That bill was passed through the Senate but Speaker Kris Steele has said he will not bring it to the House floor to be heard. On Tuesday, various anti-abortion groups rallied at the Capitol for the bill to get a hearing.

“I stood here a year ago in this same spot, and I said four words: ‘Life starts at conception,’” Vaughan said on the House floor Tuesday. “You voted for that bill, and all of you know what happened to it since.”

While the resolution was being heard, Vaughan saw opposition from several sides including other anti-abortion advocates who argued that simply passing a resolution was meant to appease those upset the personhood bill had stalled.

Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, was responsible for authoring language added to Oklahoma Statutes that defines an “unborn child” as being from the moment of conception. However, Hamilton said that while Vaughan meant well, the resolution is the kind of tactic that has been used to stymie anti-abortion legislation.

“I know all of you are eager to vote for it so you can all say ‘I voted for personhood’ and then go home, but every single one of us knows this resolution does not do a thing. It does absolutely nothing,” Hamilton said. “These are the same tactics that are used to bottle up pro-life bills, and they’ve been used for 30 years to do that. Everything old is new again.”

She said she would vote against the resolution and encouraged other advocates who were worried about appearing to be against the personhood bill to do the same. Others argued that the resolution was meaningless because even its author admitted it would have zero legal impact. However, Vaughan dismissed that rationale.

“Does this have meaning? Yes it does, and you all know it,” Vaughan argued. “I’m telling you this is our Declaration of Independence.”

One of the more heated exchanges during the resolution’s hearing came between Vaughan and Williams, D-Stillwater. Williams said that because similar language was already part of state statutes and the resolution had no effect whatsoever, the House could better spend its time on other issues.

“I’m just tired of us wasting time,” Williams said, speaking after the resolution was passed. “It’s a statement from the Legislature. Well great. The sky is blue. We all like sunny days. Those are all statements.”

He went on to call the move “theatrical politics” meant to appease anti-abortion activists, many of whom said the resolution was a cop out.

“We’ve got some real issues in the state,” Williams said. “If your child is in need of disability services, they’ve likely been on that wait list for seven years. That’s sad.”

A group was at the Capitol last week to raise awareness of the needs of people with disabilities. Williams said the Legislature could act to find resources for people with disabilities immediately, while even a passed personhood bill would be stalled in legal battles and constitutional challenges for years.

“They came to the Capitol the other day, and it’s heartbreaking. They need help and we don’t give it to them,” Williams said. “If you really want to be pro-life and protect all phases of life, which is what they’re saying … how about we protect the people who came down to the Legislature and beg for wheelchairs and beg for disability services and resources.”

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