OKLAHOMA CITY — Anti-abortion activists who call themselves “abolitionists” protested at the Oklahoma Capitol February 9 in support of SB495, a bill that would criminalize abortion.
The bill was killed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chamber, whose members are predominately pro-life Republicans.
It might at first appear shocking that SB495, written by Senator Warren Hamilton, was voted down by majority pro-life Republicans, but it actually highlights how Oklahoma is ground zero for the abortion abolition movement in the U.S.
And to fully understand this, some context and history needs to be laid out.
Beginning of a movement
“Senate Bill 13, the Abolition of Abortion Act, in Oklahoma is dead,” former Oklahoma state Senator Joseph Silk said during a press conference in March 2020.
“I did talk to a lot of senators and informed them that [the push for the abolishment of abortion] is not going away. It’s just going to get bigger and bigger…and all of [the Oklahoma legislature] knew that.”
Silk was one of the four state senators who voted to have Senate Bill 13, which would have completely criminalized abortion in Oklahoma, heard on the Senate floor last year. However, the bill was tabled.
“For the first time in the history of the United States, a state had the ability to vote on a measure that actually would bring an immediate end to abortion and [a] Republican-controlled senate voted to not take it up,” he explained.
According to the bill summary, which was written when SB13 was introduced in 2018, “any abortion procedure that results in the death of an unborn child is subject to the same laws governing homicide, manslaughter, justifiable homicide, and excusable homicide.”
At that same press conference, T. Russell Hunter highlighted who exactly opposed SB13. “It was not the ACLU that kept that bill from being heard. It was not Planned Parenthood, it was not the liberal Democrats or progressives, it was the pro-life establishment,” Hunter exclaimed.
Hunter is the founder of Free the States, one of the most influential abortion abolition organizations in the U.S.
The non-profit lobbyist group is based in Norman and its mission is to raise awareness of abortion abolition across the U.S.
Abolitionists are not “pro-life”
The ideology of abortion abolitionists—also referred to as abolitionism—is that abortion should be criminalized on all grounds, even in extreme circumstances such as rape and incest.
While pro-life lawmakers add strict regulations around abortion, they are not aiming for complete criminalization.
And, there are two main reasons: they do not want to challenge Roe v. Wade, as they argue that would lead to successionism, and they do not want to undo any pro-life bill already in place.
Reportedly, Oklahoma Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat agrees that abortion should be abolished but claims that most abolition initiatives promote successionism.
And even Tony Lauinger, chairman of the pro-life organization Oklahomans for Life and vice president of National Right to Life, has been documented lobbying against abolition bills.
In a letter to former Oklahoma state senator Brian Crain, Lauiniger urges him to vote against SB1118, another abolition bill authored by Silk, because it would undo the effects of two pro-life bills and “would be a step backward in the fight to protect unborn children.”
“[Pro-life laws] have codified the Roe v. Wade opinion,” Silk told Free Press. “If Roe v. Wade was overturned today, abortion would still be legal and go untouched in Oklahoma because of all of the pro-life laws that are on the books.”
In terms of going against Roe v. Wade, abolitionists argue that states can pass laws that defy Supreme Court rulings because it has been done before.
One of the most frequently cited examples is Gonzales v. Raich, which criminalized the production and use of cannabis. Evidently, this has been ignored by states who have passed medicinal and recreational marijuana laws.
So now, it’s easier to understand how SB495 was tabled last week by a committee mostly filled with pro-life Republicans. And in the bigger picture, Hunter’s organization, Free the States, is pushing for bills like SB495 and SB13 to be consistently proposed until state lawmakers cave.
Abolitionism in politics
In the 2020 elections, Free the States backed nine candidates in Oklahoma. Among them were House Rep. Margie Alfonso and Senator Warren Hamilton, the SB495 author. Hamilton defeated the incumbent in the primary and went on to win the general election. But, Alfonso lost to the Democratic incumbent Melissa Provenzano.
This includes newly-elected Indiana state House Rep. John Jacobs, Alaska House Rep. David Eastman and newly-elected Missouri state Senator Mike Moon.
Being the spokesperson for Free the States, Hunter has taken a new approach to lobbying for abortion abolition.
“We’re not a normal lobbying organization. We don’t run around glad-handing and giving praise to the legislators,” he said to Free Press. “We’re more lobbying for the people and telling them what their legislators are doing.”
One way Hunter reaches out to voters is by collaborating with local churches. At that same press conference about SB13, two pastors were present to represent the over 100 Oklahoma pastors who signed a letter in support of the bill.
While the Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma—the largest Christian denomination in the state—has been on the fence about abolition in the past, they recently adopted abolitionism at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in 2019 due partly to Free the States’s advocacy.
Abolitionism in the Future
SB495 was quickly shot down. The next abolition bill proposed in the upcoming years might make it further, especially with the increasing work being done by Free the States.
“I one-hundred-percent believe with every bit in me that we will criminalize abortion within the next 10 years in Oklahoma,” Silk concluded.
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UPDATED 2-14-21, 5:55 p.m. – We rewrote some wrong and confusing language about two races by candidates supported by Free the States. We are sorry for the error.