A bill that would require the fathers of unborn children to approve abortions is under consideration in Oklahoma, in a move seen by pro-life advocates as an attempt to bring men back into the parenting fold but by pro-choice activists as an unconstitutional provision that takes autonomy away from women.
HB 1441 cleared the House Public Health Committee on Tuesday by a 5-2 vote. The bill would require pregnant women seeking abortions to provide “written informed consent of the father of the fetus.”
Rep. Justin Humphrey, who introduced the bill, said giving men responsibilities over their children prior to birth would make them more involved parents afterward.
“For me, they show up and they take part in creating the baby, and then they have no say-so for nine months,” Mr. Humphrey said during the committee meeting. “And this is not just about abortion; this is about making men responsible for their part in the birthing process and in the entire process. This is a bill that’s trying to bring fathers back into their role, and so that was the intent.”
The bill makes exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, or that threaten the life of the mother. The requirement does not apply when the father is deceased.
Men who dispute their fatherhood can demand a paternity test.
National pro-choice organizations are outraged over the bill. They argue that it’s unconstitutional and would take autonomy away from the parent who carries the child to term and then assumes the bulk of the child-rearing duties.
James Owens, state communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, called HB 1441 a “dangerous escalation of efforts by a radical fringe to impose their rigid ideology on the rest of us.”
“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,” Mr. Owens said. “These fringe politicians are painting a macabre picture of what they want America to look like — where women are merely vessels for childbirth and men have veto power over all of life’s decisions.”
The bill’s detractors also took issue with Mr. Humphrey’s characterization of pregnant women as “hosts” of children.
“I understand that they feel like that is their body,” Mr. Humphrey told The Intercept news site on Monday. “I feel like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant.”
Diane Horvath-Cosper, advocacy fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, said the bill is an outrageous attempt to “shame, burden and degrade women seeking abortion care.”
“The idea that a woman needs a man’s permission to make decisions about her own medical care or that women are demoted to ‘hosts’ when they are pregnant is dangerous,” Ms. Horvath-Cosper said in a statement. “No one should be empowered to interfere with the private decision to have an abortion.”
In its landmark 1992 decision Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Supreme Court struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring spousal notifications prior to abortions. The court upheld most of the legislation in question — including informed consent, parental consent, waiting period and reporting requirements — but said the spousal consent provision imposed an “undue burden” on women.
Mr. Owens attributed the spousal consent bill in Oklahoma to Republican electoral gains on the national level, saying they had emboldened red states to push the boundaries.
“There’s no question that ideological extremists across the country have been emboldened to introduce plans like this by the rise of President Trump and his backward ideology,” he said.
But the prospect of having laws struck down in court has not stopped Oklahoma from passing pro-life legislation in the past.
Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that would have criminalized the performance of abortions, which almost certainly would have been challenged in court. It was vetoed by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who is pro-life.
Oklahoma has been named the most pro-life state by Americans United for Life for the second year in a row.
The Public Health Committee also approved a bill on Tuesday that would ban abortions targeting children with Down syndrome or genetic abnormalities.
Several pro-life advocates went to the Oklahoma Capitol last week to hand out roses to lawmakers to encourage them to pass the spousal consent bill.
Karen Alley, the director of Hope Pregnancy Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was one of the rose-bearers. She said women and men become mothers and fathers at the same time and deserve an equal say in the decision.
“I believe that life begins at conception, which means to me that you become a mother at conception and therefore you become a father at conception,” Ms. Alley told a local NBC affiliate. “The fact that our young men and our young fathers don’t have a say in that choice is sad to me. It’s taking the rights of the father away.”