Oklahoma lawmakers debate bill requiring men's permission for abortion

HB 1441 would require a woman seeking an abortion to obtain written permission from her sexual partner.

Sue Ogrocki/AP/File
Members of Bound 4 Life, an anti-abortion group, demonstrate at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City in March 2016.

Oklahoma lawmakers on Tuesday will discuss a bill that, if passed, will require all women seeking an abortion to get written permission from the father of the fetus. 

According to Oklahoma House Bill 1441, a woman must provide the name of her sexual partner to the physician performing the abortion prior to the procedure. The bill reads, "if the person identified as the father of the fetus challenges the fact that he is the father, such individual may demand that a paternity test be performed." The only circumstances in which these requirements would be waived is if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, the mother's life is put at risk, or the father of the fetus is dead. 

The bill, which is the latest in a wave of controversial state-level anti-abortion measures, has been denounced by reproductive rights advocates who argue that it violates women's constitutional rights. They cite the 1992 Supreme Court ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which stated that spousal notification of an abortion was an unconstitutional burden on women's access to abortion. 

"Not only does this bill seek to unconstitutionally restrict women’s right to make their own medical decisions, it undermines their fundamental autonomy over their own lives," said James Owens, states communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, in a statement Monday. House Bill 1441 is "one of the most extreme anti-choice bills in the country," NARAL Pro-Choice America said, and demonstrates "the rise of the aggressively anti-choice ideology pushed by President [Donald] Trump, Vice President [Mike] Pence and their Republican allies across the country." 

But supporters of the bill say they believe it's important for men to have a say in the decisionmaking process. 

"I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all of these types of decisions," said state Rep. Justin Humphrey, author of the bill, last week, as reported by The Intercept. "I'm like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you're irresponsible then don't claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you're the host and you invited that in." On Monday, Representative Humphrey apologized for referring to pregnant women as "hosts," saying his intention was not to offend. 

The problem with this argument, some critics say, is that it oversimplifies the circumstances under which women seek abortions, and doesn't take into account all types of sexual relationships. 

"It does not take into consideration that women may be in an abusive relationship and cannot seek permission from a partner because she could be in danger," Tamya Cox, Regional director of public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, told local news station KFOR. "That’s why Oklahoma should trust women to make the choices that are best for them." 

Also up for discussion in the hearing Tuesday is House Bill 1549, which would block women from aborting a fetus because of genetic abnormalities. 

Oklahoma currently has some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country, including a 72-hour waiting period and mandated counseling on the debunked link between abortion and breast cancer, according to the Guttmacher Institute. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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