OKLAHOMA CITY — Protesters placed pairs of shoes on the north steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday in protest against a bill that would grant "personhood" to fertilized human eggs.
The act of walking away barefoot was intended to show that legislators who support the bill want Oklahoma women to be barefoot and pregnant. The empty shoes left on the steps symbolized women injured or killed by politicized women's health care, said organizer Heather Hall.
The protest, organized by Oklahomans Against the Personhood Act, drew about 200 people. They held signs with messages that included "Keep your laws out of my womb" and "If you can't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?"
"It really disturbs me that they care more about fetuses and embryos than women currently living in the state of Oklahoma," said Shayna Daitch, 24, of Norman, the national committeewoman for the Young Democrats of Oklahoma. She stood barefoot, wearing a blue dress, pearls and an apron and said the bill would send the state back to the 1950s.
Tulsa Republican Sen. Brian Crain, who wrote the bill, says the intent isn't to ban abortions but to send a message that Oklahomans believe life begins at conception.
But critics include doctors and others who say the measure could interfere with in vitro fertilization and outlaw certain forms of birth control.
Mary Francis, 69, a retired reading specialist from Norman, held a rolling pin in her lap as she listened to speakers tell of personal experiences and their opinions atop the wind-whipped steps. She said she was there "because men have no say in what a woman does with her body."
"I am delighted to see the women of Oklahoma waking up and realizing what this Legislature is trying to do," Francis said.
Colleen McCarty, 26, a consultant and restaurant owner from Tulsa, said she would strongly consider taking her two businesses out of the state if the bill moves forward.
Six months pregnant and wearing a T-shirt with the words "a choice" printed over her belly, McCarty said she would not raise her daughter in a state where she would not have control over her medical decisions.
Daniel Burke, 32, of Tulsa, said his wife was working and could not attend the rally. He held a sign reading "pro-wife."
"My wife is frightened and angry and visibly upset about the proposed legislation," he said. "She feels dehumanized and degraded."
Eli Reshef, a reproductive specialist from Oklahoma City, said that only 30 percent of embryos become babies and that, under the proposed law, any that do not survive his lab would be considered a person who died.
"Sen. Crain reassures us that his bill, if enacted into law, will not limit the practice of IVF and is merely a statement extending the definition of life to protect life," Reshef said. "But if his personhood bill is literally interpreted and enforced, I may not be able to offer IVF to my patients for fear of criminal prosecution, thus denying a future to deserving Oklahoma couples."
Crain told The Associated Press on Tuesday the bill, SB 1433, is a policy statement recognizing that the unborn have rights. He says the bill is modeled after a 1986 Missouri law that was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We've got 23 years of experience in Missouri on what that bill means," he said. "It does not deny the right of an abortion. It does not deny birth control. It does not deny in vitro fertilization. It does not deny fertility specialists. This is a statement just as the mother of an unborn child has certain rights, the unborn have rights also.
"In 23 years in the state of Missouri under the same language, I know of no one who has been charged criminally or civilly for any negligence, harm, destruction of embryos."
Another personhood measure, HJR 1067, that would have placed the issue on the November ballot will not be heard this year in committee, said Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, the chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Forest Park, an opponent, said the bill has far-reaching potential when it comes to families and family planning decisions by suggesting people would be criminally liable for harming an embryo.
"I think the broadness and the lack of clarity about what the bill is actually trying to do is intentional, and the women of Oklahoma are not going to be hoodwinked," Johnson said. "We are not going to be bamboozled by, again, a group of men who have decided to insert themselves into people's private affairs."
AP Capitol Correspondent Sean Murphy contributed to this report.
Senate Bill 1433: http://bit.ly/zytrxa