“Symbolic” Personhood Bill Could Kill

Oklahoma Republican Senators pass legislation that could hurt cops, doctors, parents, sick women and rape victims… and which might have been offered in bad faith to begin with.

The Oklahoma senate has overwhelmingly supported a “fetal personhood” bill, SB-1433, authored by Republican Brian Crain of Tulsa. This law would grant all legal “rights, privileges and immunities” to fetuses at “every stage of development.”

The bill contains no provision for rape or incest. The Oklahoma State Medical Association opposes it. And according to Senator Jim Wilson, a Democrat from Tahlequah, the bill could criminalize in vitro fertilization and potentially make doctors liable for treating a woman who faces a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy.

Oh, but it gets worse: According to Wilson, Crain has argued in committee that in cases such as those, the law wasn’t even really offered in good faith. According to Sen. Wilson, when asked about what would happen to women facing ectopic pregnancies, Sen. Crain said that in such cases the law would not be enforced: that the measure is merely a symbolic stand, a way of saying that Oklahoma is a pro-life, conservative state.

Senator Crain’s office did not return repeated phone calls, but according to The Daily Beast, he “said the bill is simply a statement that Oklahoma is ‘pro-life.’” Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman said much the same thing, according to Reuters, offering that “Oklahoma is a conservative pro-life state—we are proud to stand up for what we know is right.”

Well, yes, it feels very good to be proud of things, doesn’t it? Might I suggest that not everything one is proud of needs to be enshrined in a badly-worded and vague law which, if enforced, could kill someone? Accordingly, as a resident of Oklahoma, an Oklahoma voter, and a Tulsan who likes my city a lot, I have a few questions for the bill’s supporters:

1. I would like to know why Senator Crain, and the bill’s supporters, seem to have such a low opinion of police officers that they think police officers will be totally cool with ignoring their sworn duty to uphold the law. Police officers, are you offended by this?
2. I would like to know why the bill’s supporters think that women dying from ectopic pregnancies is an acceptable grey area that it’s not important to parse in the laws of the state. And I would like to know how they can think a life-or-death question like that is unimportant, but using the legal code as a vehicle for a slogan is totally important and a good use of their time.
3. I would like them to say whether they think that families who’ve used assisted reproduction—like in vitro fertilization—should not have the children they have. And if that’s not what they think, then how can they explain why they’re supporting this legislation?
4. I would like them to say these words, in public, to their constituents: “A fourteen-year-old girl who has been violently raped repeatedly by a relative should not have access to emergency contraception and should be required, by law, to carry that pregnancy to term.” And then I would like them to list, in detail, the public spending measures that they support which would go directly to her physical and psychological care, her removal from the abuse, the detention of her rapist, and the education and healthcare and nourishment of her child.
5. I would like to know why, when there are really awesome custom t-shirt companies in Oklahoma like Boomtown Tees, our politicians seemingly can’t be bothered to take five minutes and fifty bucks to find an appropriate platform for an ideological slogan, and instead want to impose a poorly-worded and almost-certainly-unconstitutional law that will sell police officers, rape victims, doctors, and women with life-threatening pregnancies up the river. Because they’re pro-life.

And because our legislators seem confused about what is appropriate material for the legal code, and what is appropriate material for a t-shirt, I have made a flow chart. Hope this helps.

sarah.morice.brubaker@ptstulsa.edu'

Sarah Morice-Brubaker is an assistant professor of theology at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK. In addition to writing for RD, she’s also written for The Christian Century, Dialogic Magazine, and Faith and Leadership. She has a chapter in the forthcoming edited volume from Ashgate, Placing Nature on the Borders of Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics.