Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that should have anyone who cares about equal rights here take a deep breath and consider just how far the GOP will go in its continued war against women’s reproductive freedoms.
The bill, House Bill 2015, adds to the absurd and intimidating morass of reporting and paperwork physicians and patients must now complete whenever there is an abortion procedure. Alone that should be enough to significantly bother anyone who believes in women’s reproductive freedom, which is the major cornerstone of gender equality.
But the bill also added a new provision that would actually allow taxpayers, whether they are involved in a specific abortion or not, to sue doctors if they believe they are not meeting the requirements of the reporting law. Although this new provision seems entirely unconstitutional, it does have the potential to further intimidate physicians who perform abortions here.
The bill passed 79-15, with seven excused in the House, and 39-7, with two excused in the Senate. Its principal sponsors were state Rep. Sean Roberts, a Hominy Republican and state Sen. Kyle Loveless, an Oklahoma City Republican. The overwhelming vote majorities show the state legislature for the foreseeable future will continue to hassle abortion providers and their patients in a quest to end legalize abortion, which would have to happen by an unlikely U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
According to one media report, Fallin and the bill’s principal sponsors said the bill was needed to ensure doctors were complying with the law, but the added reporting requirements and making an lawsuit option available to people—let’s face it—who are simply opposed to abortion and will do about anything to stop it obviously make it a legal measure of intimidation and harassment.
Here is some of the language of the new reporting requirements in the bill:
Were the remains of the fetus after the abortion examined to ensure that all such remains were evacuated from the mother's body?
If the remains of the fetus were examined after the abortion, what was the sex of the child, as determined from such examination?
. . .
Prior to the pregnant woman giving informed consent to
having any part of the abortion performed or induced, if the
pregnancy was at least eight (8) weeks after fertilization, was the pregnant woman told that it may be possible to make the embryonic or fetal heartbeat of the unborn child audible for the pregnant woman to hear?
Note the old anti-abortion tropes that somehow women are getting abortions because of the sex of the fetus, which is a myth in this country, and the standard implication that hearing a fetal heartbeat SHOULD be some moral litmus test when it comes to abortion. Again, women should have the right to a private, non-intimating abortion procedure and physicians should be allowed to perform the procedure under accepted medical guidelines without the intrusion of anti-abortion dogma.
Here’s the language concerning the taxpayer lawsuit option in the bill:
If an abortion provider fails to submit any report required pursuant to Section 1-738k of this title, upon the refusal, failure or neglect of the State Commissioner of Health, within twenty (20) days after written demand signed, verified and served upon the State Department of Health by at least ten registered voters of the state, to institute or diligently prosecute proper proceedings at law or in equity to compel an abortion provider to submit any report required pursuant to Section 1-738k of this title but not yet submitted to the State Department of Health, any resident taxpayer of the state after serving the notice aforesaid may in the name of the State of Oklahoma as plaintiff, institute and maintain any proper action which the State Department of Health might institute and maintain to compel the abortion provider to file such report. If a court of competent jurisdiction determines the claims to be meritorious, the abortionist shall be compelled to file the report and to pay the fee(s) prescribed in subsection B of this section, with costs and reasonable attorney fees. If all claims stated by the resident taxpayers in the written demand are determined in a court of competent jurisdiction to be frivolous and brought in bad faith, the resident taxpayers who signed such demand and who are parties to the lawsuit in which such claims are determined to be frivolous and brought in bad faith shall be jointly and severally liable for all reasonable attorney fees and court costs incurred by the abortionist.
Beyond the excruciatingly awful legalese of this passage, note that the taxpayer who brings the suit may do so “in the name of the state of Oklahoma as plaintiff.” Note also the use of the word “abortionist” to refer to a physicians who perform the abortion procedure. Obviously, the bill is actively trying to encourage such lawsuits against “abortionists,” but without any legal standing or personal damage how could such a plaintiff really make a claim?
Can you imagine a legal system in which virtually anyone could file a lawsuit against you in the name of the state in which you live because they disagree with you on a political issue? If this provision is upheld, then the door is wide open to this sort of legal abuse and political intimidation.
Oklahoma has passed several anti-abortion laws in recent years that have made it more of a hassle to get the procedure performed here. This is because the state government is dominated by right-wing, religious folks who have supposedly made stopping abortion a priority. But the GOP, with the help of some Democrats, has also made it a visceral, wedge issue to manipulate religious Christian fundamentalists into voting against their financial interests. That political strategy has continued to be effective here, but make no mistake that the social costs here and the damage to the state’s national image have been high.
Intrinsic to gender equality is the idea that women control their own bodies and make their own decisions about their bodies. If women lose that right here, and such control is given to the state, then women will lose even more rights in the future, such as access to birth control and even beyond that. That a female governor signed this terrible bill into law should be an affront to all the state’s women, but, tragically, that won’t be the case. The wake-up call has yet to be heard, but it will come someday.
I think it’s fair to say that at least some members of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation and the corporate power structure here are waging a carefully constructed rhetorical war against the environment.
The principal ammunition is money given by the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions to politicians, such as Republicans U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, who represents Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District. The principal tactics—or to put it another way, what that money buys—are relentless science denial, linguistic subterfuge and reductionist sloganeering.
The victim, of course, is the environment. Our planet faces the major threat of global warming caused by man-made carbon emissions. By supporting the interests of the oil and gas industry above environmental protection, politicians like Inhofe and Lankford, the corporate energy sector here and their mouthpiece, The Oklahoman, have not only positioned themselves on the wrong side of history but have also sold out the future of the planet for money and power.
Take just this week. On Wednesday, Inhofe announced he, along with other senators, have introduced a legislative plan for a “full global embargo against Iranian oil” that also includes a requirement that the federal government open up more of its land for energy production. Of course, as even Inhofe concedes in a press release, the United States doesn’t import any oil from Iran, but that doesn’t matter because the new production of oil by big corporations on federal lands would somehow help those countries who do import oil from Iran. All this will result in the “defeat” of Iran, according to Inhofe, which is a somewhat fantastical concept in itself.
Of course, traditional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal lands will also damage the environment and only exacerbate the real problem of climate change through the burning of fossil fuels, but, as we know, Inhofe doesn’t buy into the science of global warming and calls it all a hoax.
On Friday, Inhofe also issued a statement arguing that the Department of Interior needs to back off any re-proposals of rules over fracking on federal lands, which are going to provide the oil needed to defeat Iran. In the statement, Inhofe makes the claim that “over one million wells have been fracked and there has not been a single confirmed case of groundwater contamination in that time.” It’s not surprising that argument has been refuted. (Click here as well.) Fracking has also been related to earthquakes here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
It’s also not surprising that Inhofe doesn’t mention in his press releases that he has received at least $550,950 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 2007.
Inhofe’s ties to the oil and gas industry through campaign funding ultimately result in an assault on the environment as he does the bidding of big energy companies.
One of his anti-environment colleagues in Washington, Lankford, does the same type of bidding. Lankford received $160,350 in campaign money from the oil and gas industry in the 2011-2012 campaign cycle. What does that amount of campaign money get the oil and gas industry?
On Thursday, Lankford criticized the federal government during a hearing for not expediting drilling permits on federal land. He has argued that new rules related to fracking are not needed for drilling on federal lands because apparently states do such a good job regulating the oil and gas industry. The Oklahoman, of course, extensively covered Lankford’s predictable remarks.
To round out the week, the newspaper, which is a propaganda mouthpiece for Inhofe, Lankford and all of Oklahoma City’s large energy companies, such as Devon, Chesapeake, Sandridge and Continental Resources, published an editorial Friday mocking protesters of the Keystone XL pipeline currently under construction in the state.
The editorial focused on one quote by a protester, who was arrested at a construction site, and the editorial made the sophomoric argument once again that people who fight for the environment most likely also use cars fueled by gasoline and thus have some type of conflict of interest that renders their arguments invalid.
The real conflict of interest is that the newspaper is owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire, who became rich drilling for fossil fuels, and that the newspaper conveniently never allows consistent, dissenting views to its one-sided, conservative myopia when it comes to the environmental destruction. Has Oklahoma become the epicenter of an anti-environment campaign waged by corporate interests for short-term profits?
Oklahoma politics has long seemed incredulous under Republican dominance, but it reached a new level of weirdness early this week.
On Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin signed her highly-touted tax cut into law amid the usual GOP rhetoric about people keeping their “hard earned” money and joyful predictions of a stampede of new businesses and skilled workers soon to flood the state. This is just GOP code for what the bill really does, which is this: It rewards the wealthiest Oklahomans with a tax cut through an irresponsible decrease in state revenue.
Also, on Monday, Fallin signed a measure into law that raises fees for driver's licenses by $12 making it all a net financial decrease for many of the approximately 40 percent of Oklahomans who won’t even qualify for the tax cut. Under the law, the top income tax rate would drop from 5.25 percent in 2015 and then to 4.85 percent in 2016 if there are available revenues to cover the cut.
Meanwhile, an Oklahoma City attorney, Jerry Fent, has announced he plans to sue the state over the tax cut measure, House Bill 2032, because he argues it contains more than one subject, which is unconstitutional in Oklahoma. The bill provides for the tax cut and $120 million in repairs to the state Capitol building. This could be considered log rolling, a political technique used to sway legislators to vote on a bill even though they stand against one component of it.
So let’s get this straight: Fallin and GOP leaders are making hoopla over a tax cut that doesn’t even give a break to some 40 percent of Oklahomans and might not even go into effect anyway because of a lawsuit. The hike in the basic driver’s license fee and other licenses’ fees under Senate Bill 652 would mean thousands of Oklahomans are actually paying more, not less, to the state.
But that basic reality didn’t stop the GOP propaganda machine, which was in full throttle Monday. Here’s Fallin in a press release issued by her office about the tax-cut bill signing:
One of the first questions I get when I am talking to business owners throughout the country is, ‘if I come to Oklahoma, are you going to raise my taxes?’ Passing a significant and responsible tax cut will help us to recruit these businesses and retain the ones we already have. Our tax cut will ultimately lead to more job opportunities for all Oklahomans.
Is that really one of the first questions she gets from business owners? Does the state even need businesses that are owned by people fixated on getting out of paying taxes?
Fallin called the tax cut “responsible” in her remarks, but the responsible approach would have been to delay a cut until the economy has fully recovered and then, with interest rates at historic lows, authorize a bond interest to fix the state Capitol building.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Lawton Republican, had his say, too.
The way you grow an economy is by letting hard working people keep more of their hard earned money. Oklahoma has proven this conservative principle to be true over the past 15 years. By lowering the income tax rate, we are attracting skilled and educated workers to our state and making Oklahoma a leader in business and economic growth.
What is Shannon talking about when he refers to the past 15 years? Prior tax cuts that mean the state remains dead last on a regional basis in per pupil funding and has some of the nation’s worst medical outcomes? The state’s new-age dependency on the federal government for its sustenance and viability? The fact state workers haven’t had an across-the-board raise in six years? What we do know for sure is that the Great Recession beginning in 2008 devastated state revenues, the state has not fully recovered and education funding has taken the brunt of the hit. That’s not disputable, and that’s five of Shannon’s 15 glory years right there.
The average tax cut per person is $81 annually, but it would collectively cost the state budget $136 million in 2015 and then more than $230 million in 2016 if that year’s tax cut does take effect, according to estimates. The $81 average is a bit misleading. The bulk of the cut goes to the wealthiest Oklahomans, who will see an average cut of $2,031 annually, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. OK Policy estimates 41 percent of Oklahomans won’t get any break, people with incomes from $19,500 to $36,400 would only get a $9 reduction annually, and, overall, the bottom 60 percent of income earners will receive only 9 percent of the cut.
But don’t think the GOP isn’t thinking about the poverty-stricken here. On Monday, Shannon also announced that Fallin had signed into law his House Bill 1908, which uses money from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to pay for a public service campaign promoting marriage. In other words, the GOP is taking money away from a program that helps impoverished people to tell them they need to get married.
So the class warfare waged by Republicans here continues.