Opponents of House Bill 1595 expect abortion-report legislation to be re-introduced

Oklahoma House Bill 1595, aka the Statistical Reporting of Abortion Act, suffered another setback on Dec. 18 when Oklahoma County District Judge Daniel Owens extended a temporary restraining order until Feb. 19, 2010. The order prevents the state from demanding women who are seeking an abortion fill out a 10-page questionnaire, and  prevents the state from establishing a Web site that would publish respondents' answers.

Janet Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based advocacy group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Oklahoma plaintiffs, called the decision a victory and said she expects the judge to issue a decision at the February hearing.

The law has been challenged on constitutional grounds that have nothing to do with abortion. Opponents filed suit because the law violated Oklahoma's single-subject rule, which states that a law must address only one topic at a time. What that means for the long term, however, is that lawmakers still have the option to rework the legislation and submit its measures one issue at a time.

"We are concerned that they will revamp the legislation, but we hope that the Legislature will pause and realize this headlong rush to restrict abortion is causing a lot of litigation," Crepps said. "Based on the actions of the Legislature, it appears there is a strong anti-abortion agenda, but we're not going to fold our hands and do nothing if they do decide to reintroduce this legislation."

Rep. Daniel Sullivan, R-Tulsa, the bill's co-author, previously told Oklahoma Gazette that the information in the questionnaire is necessary to help the government alleviate the conditions that lead to the choice to have an abortion. Sullivan did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.

"We want to identify the causes and try to eliminate them," Sullivan said earlier this year. "We're trying to drill down and find out why the abortion is being performed."

Rep. Ryan Kiesel, D-Seminole, who voted against HB 1595, was one of only four representatives to do so. He said the bill has nothing to do with decreasing abortions or providing the government with health information.

"Like so much of the so-called pro-life legislation, this bill had nothing to do with reducing abortions; rather, it's about intimidating women," Kiesel said. "Much of this information is stuff the Health Department already keeps track of. I asked Rep. Sullivan if he'd contacted the Health Department. He hadn't, so this obviously isn't an attempt to make the system better; it's simply about intimidating women who are seeking abortions."

The law goes far beyond the current abortion reporting requirements. At 10 times the length of the current report, it asks for the age, race and education level of the mother; total number of children and/or abortions prior to the current one; abortion method; anesthesia information; method of payment; and a series of questions about the father.

"We're not trying to embarrass anybody, hurt anybody or make anybody's identities known," Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, told United Press International. "That's not the purpose of the legislation."

Lamb authored the Senate version of the bill. His assistant contacted Gazette to say that he was not able to return calls requesting an interview.

Kiesel said he objects to questions about highly personal information.

"The law would require the state to build and maintain a Web site with all this information made public at a cost of about $250,000 a year," Kiesel said. "I hope that the current budget crisis will have a sobering effect on supporters of this law. The provisions are expensive and the request for personal information only intimidates women. This is the beginning, as I'm sure they will come back with single-issue bills, but Mr. Sullivan is not going to change our minds that a woman's constitutional right to reproductive choices doesn't belong in the hands of the government."

Crepps said she believes the judge will render a decision in February because "this is an issue that can be decided by a judge as a matter of law."

"We'll have our arguments ready," she said. "We believe we've laid our legal arguments already in the papers we filed, but we'll come prepared to present our arguments. Our plaintiffs were concerned that there is an attempt in Oklahoma to restrict abortions and to do so through the use of omnibus bills. We're hopeful that through the filing of lawsuits and the work of pro-choice advocates on the ground, Oklahomans will reach out to us in support of reproductive rights."

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