Here we go again.
Anti-choice extremists in Oklahoma are shooting for the pinnacle of reproductive rights rollbacks—a personhood amendment to the state constitution that would send reproductive rights back to the very dark days before Roe v. Wade made it legal for women to seek abortions from licensed reproductive health care providers—and not through life-threatening, illegal means.
This is a state with a long and troubling history of trying to strip away women’s reproductive rights. The state legislature has passed laws attempting to ban a safe, nonsurgical method of early abortion through medication (the Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging this) and another that would have forced an ultrasound on every woman seeking to end a pregnancy—along with a mandatory viewing of the image and a state-mandated lecture from their doctors (the Center has just succeeded in getting this law struck down).
We’re leading the legal attack to stop the new ballot initiative, too. The measure is blatantly unconstitutional, massively infringing on the fundamental right to decide whether and when to have children, and it should never appear on the ballot.
Proponents of the Oklahoma initiative admit that, if passed, the amendment would outlaw abortion in all cases—with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest, fetal anomalies, or risk to a woman’s health or life. But wait, there’s more: The measure could also ban many forms of birth control, including the Pill, and fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization.
Make no mistake about it: If this bill passes, women will suffer and die.
Sound overstated? Consider what happens in other places where life is defined as beginning at the moment of conception.
In 1998, El Salvador amended its constitution to include this definition and passed a law that criminalized abortion completely, eliminating all exceptions. The result has been devastating. Countless women—trying to protect their health or livelihood—are driven to clandestine and dangerous abortions. Women are thrown in jail for breaking the law—even those suffering from miscarriages and complications in pregnancies they intended to carry to term. Police stalk the emergency rooms of hospitals across the country on the lookout for pregnancies gone wrong. All women live under a dark cloud of suspicion.
The Center is currently standing up in international human rights courts for one impoverished rural family whose daughter was among many women who have been wrongfully imprisoned. She suffered a stillbirth, in no small part because she had little—if any—access to prenatal care and lived a long distance from the most basic health center. She later died in prison.
Because of the country’s rabid anti-choice culture, women, and especially the poor who receive no sex education, no family planning services, and little maternal care, are immediately presumed guilty by the authorities. The most common sentence for women found guilty, including the woman that we are representing: 30 years in some of the world’s worst prisons.
What would happen in Oklahoma if this law passed and a pregnant woman fell or suffered a miscarriage while exercising? The personhood advocates in Oklahoma brush away such concerns, calling them extreme cases. But in a state that has proven again and again its anti-choice lawmakers’ unstoppable intent to constrain women and violate their reproductive rights, why should we take their word that there are limits to their hostility?
We’re confident that the court will block this initiative. But failure seems to have little effect on those behind the personhood “movement.” The repeated attempts to undermine a woman’s dignity and equality should serve as a loud reminder that it’s time to restore and strengthen protections for all reproductive rights, in the U.S., El Salvador, and all across the globe.