Oklahoma House Overrides Veto of Law Mandating Ultrasounds Before Abortions

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma House voted overwhelmingly Monday to override vetoes of two restrictive abortion measures Gov. Brad Henry has called unconstitutional intrusions into citizens' private lives and decisions.

The Senate was expected to follow suit Tuesday, after which the bills would become law.

One of the measures requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion. The other prohibits pregnant women from seeking damages if physicians withhold information or provide inaccurate information about their pregnancy.

Supporters said the second measure was aimed at preventing women from discriminating against fetuses with disabilities. The votes were 81-14 and 84-12.

Henry, who vetoed the measures Friday, has called the ultrasound legislation flawed because it does not allow exemptions for victims of rape and incest. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a national abortion rights group, calls it among the strictest anti-abortion measures in the nation.

Keri Parks, director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Oklahoma City, urged the Senate to uphold the governor's vetoes.

"Doctors, not politicians, should be making these medical decisions," Parks said.

Each of the vetoed bills passed the 48-member Senate 35-11, one vote shy of the three-quarters majority needed to override. Anti-abortion legislation supporter Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, was absent when both bills received final passage.

Tony Lauinger, state chairman of the anti-abortion group Oklahomans for Life and vice president of the National Right to Life Committee, said Mazzei is expected to be in the Senate chamber Tuesday.

But Senate Democratic Leader Charlie Laster of Shawnee, who voted to pass the bills, said Henry had raised important issues and that he had not decided Monday whether he would vote to override the Democratic governor.

"We're not baseball umpires. We don't stick by our call even if it's a bad one. We get to reconsider," Laster said.

Supporters of the legislation said they do not share the governor's concerns about its constitutionality, which they say should be left to the courts to decide.

"We must move to stop the degradation of human life seen in recent years and stand up for those who cannot defend themselves," said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa.

Legislative attempts to restrict abortion are not unusual across the country, or in Oklahoma.

This month alone, Henry has signed laws requiring clinics to post signs stating a woman cannot be forced to have an abortion, saying an abortion will not be performed until the woman gives her voluntary consent and making abortions based on child's gender illegal.

Nebraska also put new restrictions on abortion this month, enacting a law that bars the procedure at and after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the assertion fetuses can feel pain at that point. The other requires women be screened before having abortions for mental health issues and other risk factors indicating if they might have problems afterward.