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Gov. Mary Fallin vetoes controversial abortion bill

Gov. Mary Fallin vetoes controversial abortion bill

She called the bill vague, said it wouldn’t survive a constitutional challenge.


Gov. Mary Fallin delivers her State of the State address earlier this year. Fallin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have made it a felony to perform abortions. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World file

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Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday vetoed a measure that would have banned abortion in Oklahoma, saying the bill was vague and would not withstand a constitutional legal challenge.

Senate Bill 1552 would have made it a felony for physicians to perform abortions. It also contained a provision to revoke their medical licenses unless the abortion was necessary to save the life of the mother.

“The bill is so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered ‘necessary to preserve the life of the mother,’ ” Fallin said in a statement.

“The absence of any definition, analysis or medical standard renders this exception vague, indefinite and vulnerable to subjective interpretation and application,” she wrote in her veto message.

The courts previously have tossed out a number of bills passed by Oklahoma lawmakers and signed by Fallin that put additional regulations on abortion.

“While I consistently have and continue to support a re-examination of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, this legislation cannot accomplish that re-examination,” Fallin wrote.

“In fact, the most direct path to a re-examination of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade is the appointment of a conservative, pro-life justice to the United States Supreme Court.”

The measure’s author Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, said he was disappointed and surprised with the veto “from a person who claims to be pro-life.”

An attempted veto override between now and the required end of the session on May 27 is “obviously something that will be discussed and I hope we pursue it,” he said.

An override attempt would have to start in the Senate.

The Legislature can override a veto with a two-thirds majority in both chambers, 68 votes in the House and 32 in the Senate.

Senate Bill 1552 passed in the Senate by a vote of 33-12, while the vote in the House was 59-9 with 33 members excused.

Dahm said he has received calls expressing support and encouragement for his efforts to address abortion. His frustration with the governor’s veto is echoed by his constituents, he said.

“I’ve heard from other people that it is for reasons like this that she has such high unfavorable ratings right now,” he said.

The New York City-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which has successfully represented entities that have challenged prior anti-abortion legislation in the state, applauded the veto.

“Governor Fallin did the right thing today in vetoing this utterly unconstitutional and dangerous bill,” Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the organization, said in a statement.

“But the reality is countless Oklahoma women still face incredible obstacles to access safe and legal abortion when they’ve made the decision to end a pregnancy,” Northrup said. “It’s time the rest of Oklahoma’s elected officials follow Governor Fallin’s lead today and stop policing women’s most personal, private decisions about their families, their lives, and their futures.”

The chairman of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit group that had committed to defending legal challenges to the legislation, said Fallin has gone back on her word with the veto after she told the group late last year that she was behind the bill.

“As one who proclaims to be pro-life, her actions run counter to her words,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a group that says its mission is advancing religious freedom and the sanctity of life.

“This is a despicable betrayal of her word and of innocent children whose lives will be cut short because of her cowardly act. I encourage the Oklahoma legislators to veto the governor and Liberty Counsel stands ready to defend this bill.”

Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma executive director, said the group is grateful that Fallin vetoed what the group called “one of the most extreme pieces of anti-choice legislation ever produced in Oklahoma.”

“The governor’s action sends a strong message to the Oklahoma Legislature that measures such as these do nothing to push our state forward,” Kiesel said in a statement. “However, the fight is far from over. We urge each and every Oklahoman to contact their state legislator and tell them to protect Oklahoma’s women and sustain the governor’s veto.”

A planned protest of the measure at 1 p.m. Saturday is now scheduled to be a rally organized by the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, which will bring its message to the Capitol in Oklahoma City to urge the Legislature to let the veto stand.

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