Supporters of the Personhood Act in Oklahoma vowed that the act would not die without a fight, and they meant it. On Monday, more than a dozen Oklahoma lawmakers and area pastors gathered at the state capitol to show support for the act.
According to Personhood USA, the act would “define the beginning of life at conception and recognize the rights of unborn children at every age.” The state Senate passed the bill by a vote of 34 to 8, and the House Public Health committee gave the bill a recommendation of “do pass” in late March.
Much controversy surrounded the bill not being brought to a vote in the House. On Wednesday, April 18, Speaker of the House Kris Steele (R) blocked the vote. Representative Steele claimed that the House Republican Caucus had voted not to take up the measure. Steele publicly stated, “This decision was not made unilaterally but as a caucus collectively. I accept the will of our caucus.”
However, the Tulsa World reported on Friday, April 20, that another Republican representative, Rep. Randy Terrill, said no caucus vote occurred. Instead, caucus whips asked members about their preferences. As such, there is no record of which representatives wanted the bill to be voted on or not.
According to Terrill, members are not allowed to discuss what happens in the caucus, which Speaker Steele did by stating, “The whip system was used to determine the caucus position on the matter, which is a standard procedure used frequently during session.” But having no record of which way each Republican voted prevents Oklahomans from having a fair opportunity to know the stance of each representative on important issues.
Back at the capitol on Monday, Republican Representative Gus Blackwell said, “We’re pro-life. We want a vote on this bill. We demand a vote so our constituents can see that what we say, we back up with a green light on this bill.” Dan Fisher, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon, noted, “As Baptists we uphold the value and sanctity of life. We believe that life should be protected from the moment of conception, and we believe that anything that stops that other than a natural process is the unnecessary ending of life that is called murder.” After Speaker Steele blocked the vote, the Baptist General Convention sent an action alert on the matter, and the Catholic Dioceses distributed a handout supporting personhood in every Oklahoma parish.
Other representatives expressed their desire to vote on the bill at the capitol. Rep. Mike Christian of Oklahoma City commented, “We need to put it on the board and put a vote on it and let the people see where we stand. And again, if he doesn’t want to do that, then we take another step forward in the next couple of weeks to remove him as speaker.” Rep. Reynolds, also of Oklahoma City, commented, “I believe Oklahomans are overwhelmingly in support of the personhood initiative which says life begins at conception. It’s on the agenda. All he has to do is recognize her.”
Another group, made up of representatives from the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Oklahomans for Life, and other pro-personhood organizations and legislators, will meet on Tuesday to hold another rally to call for a vote on the matter.