In Oklahoma, Another Example of Small-Government Conservatives Backing Government Overreach

A proposal in Oklahoma would have allowed the state to create a database of abortion patients. It's been revised, but how was the original language ever OK?

While much of the nation was focused on the Alabama State Supreme Court’s controversial decision regarding in vitro fertilization last month, Oklahoma lawmakers were engaged in an equally troubling matter, just as insidious and ominously Orwellian: a bill that would allow the state to create a database of every person who has an abortion in the state.

Under the bill’s original language, H.B. 3216, any physician who performed a “pre-viability separation procedure” (translation: abortion) had to report it to the Oklahoma State Department of Health along with the date, gestational age, and reason for the abortion.

Further, the bill would have required the department “to establish a confidential system” to identify women who had a procedure — not by name, but by assigning each woman a “unique patient identifier.” Under the bill, a woman’s identity could be released to authorities via a court order if legal action is deemed necessary. By whom is not clear. The abortion police, perhaps.

The bill also prohibited the distribution of “any medicine, drug, or any
other substance prescribed or dispensed with the intent of inducing
an abortion.” Physicians who knowingly violated this section of the bill could have
their license suspended or revoked for a year and could be sued by the state for malpractice.

A companion bill, H.B. 3013, would make delivering or possessing abortion-inducing drugs a felony, with penalties of up to $100,000 in fines or 10 years in prison.

Oklahoma bans abortion except to save the life of the mother. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. It is one of several states with laws stipulating that life begins at conception, or in some cases, fertilization.

But there’s good news: Blowback has resulted in changes to the bill since being introduced in February. Its author, state representative Kevin West, pulled the section allowing for a statewide database, as well as another section of the bill banning contraceptives like IUDs and Plan B, the so-called morning after pill. West also added an amendment to the bill excluding IVF from any potential ban.

But the original language, and the idea that some elected officials supported the language, makes you wonder how they thought such draconian measures were OK and would pass legal muster. It bolted out of committee on a 5-1 vote. A vote on the Oklahoma House floor was scheduled for this month followed by one in the Senate, but the bill’s revisions may delay those plans.

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

West says he wrote the bill with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian law firm that was involved in the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade. He reportedly argued in committee that the idea was to track abortions the same way the state tracks births and deaths.

I doubt that was on the minds of anyone at ADF, but if that’s the kind of tracking you wanna do, Mr. West, why not make those women wear scarlet letters?

Let us expand your bill and create a database for everyone who has had a heart attack. We could make them wear tracking software to monitor their food and beverage purchases, maybe with a threshold on salt or caloric intake. Violate the threshold and you’re denied Medicare or Medicaid.

Perhaps we can demand data from states where it’s still legal to obtain an abortion or abortifacient.

How about this: A motorist with more than three traffic violations and the state installs a tracking device — we could call it a “unique vehicle identifier” — that monitors your speed, location, stops, and starts. We could cross-reference this will traffic light sequencing data and submit all traffic offenses to the Big Brother, regardless of future police encounters.

Let’s make all people the property of the state.

For what it’s worth — just as a sidebar here — Congress has worked hard over the years to bar the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from creating or maintaining a database to track gun owners or gun purchases. Well, of course. That would be government overreach, and this is America, where guns have more rights than women.

You’re surely thinking of a whole host of amendments Mr. West’s original bill could have violated. Perhaps, the party of small government forgot about HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which stipulates that you cannot disclose protected information to anyone other than a patient and the patient’s authorized representatives.

It’s not clear how such a database might have interacted with HIPAA, but safe to say the spirit of the bill constitutes a grave invasion of a woman’s medical privacy.

“Let us expand your bill and create a database for everyone who has had a heart attack. We could make them wear tracking software to monitor their food and beverage purchases, maybe with a threshold on salt or caloric intake. Violate the threshold and you’re denied Medicare or Medicaid.”

Denise Crosswhite Hader, another Republican legislator, said H.B. 3013, which would criminalize delivering abortifacient drugs, is intended to protect the health of women who might regret their decision to seek an abortion.

“I stand again to try and protect the life of women who might take these pills and not know the repercussions of what it might do for them,” she said.

I’m not sure how being in an abortion database would help, but it’s a particularly rich statement considering Oklahoma consistently ranks among the states with the worst rates of maternal deaths in the U.S., according to the state’s own health agency, citing CDC figures from 2019. As of 2021, CDC data shows the state now has 47.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

The national average for that year was 33. In California, that icky blue state where abortion is legal, it’s 9.7. Perhaps even more embarrassingly, Oklahoma’s maternal death numbers are about on par with Kyrgyzstan’s and Panama’s, according to CIA figures, and 20 percent worse than Cuba’s.

Pointing to the CDC data, editors of the Enid News and Eagle blamed state lawmakers for failing to create better pregnancy-related policies, given the state’s restrictive abortion laws.

I tend to avoid the subject of abortion. It’s one of those subjects that fall under the heading of “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” You can talk about the subject until you’re blue in the face and at the end of the day, you’re right back where you started. Minds do not change. People aren’t just adamant, they’re obstinate, and sometimes with a passion bordering on hostility.

It’s a bad place to be if your goal is to try and have a reasoned discussion. We find ourselves caught between salvo after salvo of name-calling: Bible-thumpers over here, baby-killers over there. That’s often what the argument is reduced to, which isn’t useful. Even the language is carefully parsed to manipulate: We don’t say pro-abortion, we say pro-choice; we don’t say anti-abortion, we say pro-life. And after everyone is spent, after all the marches, the protesting, and all the rest of it, the same people who oppose abortion will continue to be pro-life; the same people who support the woman’s right to choose will continue to be pro-choice.

And occasionally, each side will truck out a person that proves their point of view. For instance, Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff at the center of 1973’s Roe v. Wade case, later decided that she opposed abortion. A big fuss was made and the obvious media suspects were more than happy to use her as a shill in their opposition to abortion. It wasn’t until months before her death in 2017 that she confessed she was paid by anti-abortion groups to join the anti-abortion movement.

This debate is not likely to end, and to engage in it, as Shakespeare once said — that way lies madness.

I am pro-choice. It’s less about advocacy than about reality. I think it unwise to ban abortion because, like the argument itself and the circus I just described, making abortions illegal will not stop people from getting abortions if they have the means to do so, and it may also result in tragically unintended consequences of the sort Crosswhite Hader may never have considered, or perhaps never cared to.

I am pro-choice because I believe in minding your own business and not forcing others to live the way I live. And so, when I get a letter from the “40 Days for Life” people, an organization that campaigns against abortion, I’m bothered by the writer who speaks of “the gentle whisper of a little girl or boy in their mother’s womb saying, ‘Mom, please take my hand, not my life.’”

Really? What happens after the child is born? Who takes the hand of the mother who hasn’t the means to raise that child? Is this just a 40-day campaign, or are you willing to do something to help that child make it through the first 21 years of their life?

These are the same people who say the nation is filled with bad parents raising children who have no guidance, and no moral compass because the child’s parents are not there, or don’t care, or were ill-equipped to raise a child. Well, you wanted that child born into this world. What did you expect, that all would be well after the birth?

“What happens after the child is born? Who takes the hand of the mother who hasn’t the means to raise that child? Is this just a 40-day campaign, or are you willing to do something to help that child make it through the first 21 years of his or her life?”

Anyone can have a child; not anyone can raise that child. So what is your true purpose? To offer prayers? To mail out your pamphlets? To pass laws forcing women to have children they don’t have the means to raise? Will you be around for that child’s birthday each year? Why not? Is life only sacred for nine months? Then what? As soon as the child is born, we’re outta here. Good luck.

Sorry, I’m not feeling that kind of self-righteousness. Do you want women to feel guilty about getting an abortion? Do you think she’d feel even guiltier if she brought a child into this world who she couldn’t feed and shelter, and who eventually becomes pregnant at 13, or a crime statistic at 17?

Perhaps those who protest would do more good if they spent their time helping women of limited means raise that child — giving money, raising money — you know, for all the families having children but also lacking adequate resources to raise them. The life of the child is sacred, right? Well, if it is, where are you during the life of that child? Off protesting at another Planned Parenthood clinic?

Why are you protesting when you could be volunteering your time at an orphanage? Wouldn’t that be a positive contribution? Why aren’t you adopting some of these children? You certainly seem to have the time on your hands if you’re out there protesting. Why don’t you become a foster parent? We have plenty of children already in need of foster homes. Make a difference to the ones that are here right now. I’ve often argued that if abortion opponents used that same passion to advocate for adoption instead of prohibition, they would be far more deserving of their pro-life appellation than the nom de guerre that it currently is.

Oh, but doing something productive to help unwed mothers and abandoned children, we can’t have that. Let’s leave that to the teachers and social workers that we refuse to pay a decent wage.

Could we at least have a more concerted effort to prevent the pregnancies that result in women choosing abortions? Where are the protesters on that front? Wouldn’t we be better off preventing unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place? Why aren’t pro-life people putting their time and efforts into early prevention?

No, I don’t mean abstinence education, an utter failure, but information that’s “medically accurate, LGBTQ-inclusive, and culturally and age-appropriate so that they can make informed decisions about their sexual behavior, relationships, and reproductive choices,” as the reproductive rights organization the Guttmacher Institute describes.

Nope. Can’t do that. Can’t talk about that sort of thing in school. Not my child! Don’t you know we’re too busy banning books? Funny how it’s almost always abortion opponents who oppose sex education and access to birth control for teenagers.

You cannot have it both ways. We all know that young people are going to have sex no matter how many “I Promise To Wait Until I’m Married” contracts they sign.

Am I here saying abortions for everyone? Of course not. Abortions should be safe, legal and rare. But I am so tired of ultra-patriarchal, conservative religious groups that intimidate and bully women into social submission when making choices with their bodies. Men receive little to no criticism or pressure for the choices they make with their bodies, like whether to wear a condom or to take Viagra.

Here’s an idea. If abortion opponents are that bound and determined to reinvent “The Waltons” or “Little House on the Prairie” (where they believe that life is just peachy) they should form a posse or become bounty hunters and track down the deadbeat dads who skip town. Why is it up to the woman? What century are we in? Do we even know which end of the telescope to look through?

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