by Steven Ertelt
April 25, 2007
Oklahoma City, OK (LifeNews.com) — The Oklahoma state Senate fell just one vote short of having enough votes to override a veto by Gov. Brad Henry of a bill that would help get the state government out of the abortion business. The measure prohibits Medicaid-funded employees or facilities from promoting abortions because they are funded with state taxpayer dollars.
Sen. James Williamson, a Republican from Tulsa, called for the vote to override the veto but it was not successful because Sen. Charles Laster, a Democrat from Shawnee, changed his vote.
Laster had previously supported the bill and voted to send it to the governor.
The Senate needed a two-thirds vote to override the veto, or 32 votes, and the vote failed on a 31-17 margin.
All of the chamber’s 24 Republicans and seven of the Democrats supported the override.
Despite the loss, the rules of the Oklahoma state Senate allow an unlimited number of override votes and Williamson told the Associated Press he would bring up the bill again "as many times as necessary” until the end of the 2007-2008 legislative session.
Laster said he changed his mind after talking about the bill with the governor and medical groups, which opposed it.
While Henry has signed into law bills limiting abortions before, he sided with the state medical association and said he worried that the bill would deny other pregnancy-related medical services to poor women.
They worried that language in the bill asking doctors not to "encourage" abortions would put too strong of a restriction on physicians and cause them not to talk about other medical procedures.
But Williamson was joined at a press conference on Tuesday by Doris Erhart, co-founder of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma, who said the bill was needed because Medicaid-funded doctors are encouraging parents of unborn children diagnosed with Down Syndrome to have abortions.
She told AP the information is "delivered in such a way as to pressure the woman to terminate her pregnancy.”
Rep. Lisa Billy, a Republican, agreed and said a doctor at s state-funded facility suggested to her to have an abortion because her baby would have the disability but her son was eventually born without it.
"It’s hard to believe this is happening in our society, but it is, and we clearly need to stop taxpayers from supporting this practice,” Williamson said.
He introduced the bill after learning that the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center had done two abortions.
Tony Lauinger, the head of Oklahomans for Life, supports the bill and told LifeNews.com that Henry’s veto was "one more obstacle to be overcome in getting state government out of the abortion business in Oklahoma."
Before the veto override vote, Launiger said he was worried that abortion advocates would try to pick off one of the eight Democrats who voted for the bill.
The House voted 73-22 for the bill, which the Senate had already approved.
During the legislative debate, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a doctor who has delivered more than 3,000 children, said he supported the bill.
He said in a statement sent to LifeNews.com that he supported the bill because it "would ensure that the tax dollars of Oklahomans are no longer used to extinguish the life of the unborn."
That the state medical society opposed the bill upset Coburn.
"The reality is that every tax dollar that is spent to perform an abortion is a dollar that has been taken away from providing medically necessary health care for patients," he said.
"More than 18 percent of Oklahoma’s population is uninsured, the seventh-highest rate in the country," Coburn added. "How can we justify spending limited public resources on abortion when our fellow Oklahomans cannot even afford basic health care?"
In 2005 6,632 abortions were done in Oklahoma — an 8 percent drop from the 7,183 abortions done in 2000.