It seems that this election cycle has brought a number of social issues to the forefront. One that has been heavily debated is the issue of “personhood” and the ramifications of such bills within government. Is it an overreach of the state or federal government to determine when life begins? Or is it simply the moral responsibility of these elected officials to determine such, for the good of the unborn child?
On Feb. 28, the “Stop the Personhood Act March” was held at the Oklahoma State Capitol on the North Plaza. The march was in reaction to two measures that were currently circulating in the Oklahoma legislature.
Senate Bill 1433, or the “Personhood Bill” would determine that life begins at conception. This could present many problems in terms of birth control, in-vitro fertilizations, and the ever-controversial availability of abortion. After passing the Senate with a vote of 34-8, the bill still awaits action from the House.
The second measure that circulated in the halls of Congress is House Joint Resolution 1067. This resolution also determines that life begins at conception and, had it passed, would have been presented to the Oklahoma public for a vote. HJR 1067 was tabled this year, after a refusal from Rep Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, who said the House Rules Committee would not hear the measure.
The text of this bill is more extreme than SB 1433. The more controversial text of the measure includes prohibiting birth control that would kill a person, person being applied to “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”
It would also affect in-vitro and assisted reproduction services, because, according to the bill, once an egg has been fertilized, it is a human being. Thus, should an embryo not survive in the lab, the doctor or lab tech could be held on charges.
The march was organized through Facebook, and had approximately 1300 people RSVP as attending. A theme was chosen, “Back to the 50s,” and women were asked to wear aprons and a pair of shoes they could lose, to represent the “barefoot and pregnant ideal of the radical right.”
The event began at noon, and featured many speakers, as well as an open mike session for attendees to come and voice their reason for opposing the measures.
One notable speaker was Dr. Eli Rashef, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist. The bill would affect him by making him responsible for any embryos that do not survive in the IVF process (according to statistics provided by Dr. Rashef, only 30 percent of embryos survive).
In his speech to the crowd, he offered his feelings on the laws. “Personhood laws make me think twice about offering IVF for fear of criminal prosecution,” he said. When asked later why he, as a doctor, opposes this, he said, “one of the greatest dreams in life is having children and to think you can snuff it out with a stroke of a pen, because you think you are protecting life, is asinine.”
Another notable speaker was Bruce Prescott, a minister and executive director for Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. He was there speaking out against the bill, and cited biblical history to the crowd.
He cites the modern Catholic law of personhood beginning at fertilization as “prompted by the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception and family planning as well as by a concern to protect the sanctity of human life in the face of advances in modern science and technology.” He compared this to the Protestant views on the matter and said they view these as a matter of personal conscience as opposed to being determined by ecclesiastical or government decree.
One of his closing remarks on the governments attempted involvement in this area drew strong cheers from the crowd. “[The government] is infringing upon one of the most basic and inalienable human rights, the right of fully conscious and sentient persons to make vital decisions regarding their own life.”
After the scheduled speakers ended, an open mike session was held. Many attendees lined up to voice their own concerns and their reasons why they oppose these measures. Many women were mothers through IVF, and others simply passionate for the cause. Tiffany Phillips expressed the deep-seated fear that most women in attendance feel in the face of these bills. “It scares me to death that today, in 2012, we are still debating whether or not we can use contraceptives. I thought that debate was long over, but for some reason, this year, it is suddenly on the table again,” she said.