Economics may dominate Capitol discussion, but social issues remain important

Although the Oklahoma House and Senate are focusing on income tax cuts, budget challenges, bond controversies and a range of other fiscal legislation, social and moral issues remain important in policy debate at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. 

The first few days of the 2012 session of the Legislature amply demonstrated the continued importance of cultural conservatism in the Sooner State. 

This weeks Rose Day brought several thousand advocates of anti-abortion policies to the seat of Oklahoma government for a variety of activities, including a rally in the House chamber. The throng rejoiced that there was no repeat of last year’s stormy weather, which led to cancellation of the annual event. 

This year’s keynote speaker Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee (in fact, she said, a 2008 “employee of the year”) described her conversion from support of abortion rights to opposition. Although she had previously performed the role of assuring evacuation of all fetal material in the wake of abortions at a clinic where she worked, her views were transformed after she witnessed an abortion on an ultrasound monitor. 

Johnson went from being a trained media advocate for abortion to ardent pro-life activism within a year. “After eight years of justification and rationalization, when I saw that boy in desperate need” on the screen, her journey to the other side of the divisive debate began. Johnson characterizes abortion as “not a Republican or Democrat issue, white or African-American issue, male or female issue, but a human rights issue.” 

Noting her appreciation of Atheists for Life, she begged Rose Day attendees to “pray for those who disagree with you. Sometimes being pro-life can be a lonely place. Don’t be discouraged.”

During her speech, to loud applause, Johnson said she had just learned that U.S. House Speaker John Boehner planned to seek reversal of the Obama administration’s controversial health care rule requiring religious organizations to provide abortion and contraceptive coverage for employee insurance plans. 

(On February 10, the Obama administration announced it was seeking an “accommodation” of concerns raised by Catholic groups and other religious organizations.) 

Before and after Johnson’s speech, thousands of abortion foes walked the halls of the Capitol, delivering their signature red roses to legislators in both chambers and from both parties, and to members of their staffs. 

 Just before Johnson’s speech, writer/singer Randy Parks, a Baptist minister, performed a composition giving voice to an aborted unborn child. 

Governor Mary Fallin was recognized for her pro-life career in public office, beginning in the early 1990s in the state Legislature, continuing as lieutenant governor for 12 years, a member of Congress for four years, and her current tenure as the state’s chief executive. 

In her speech to the packed House chamber and gallery, Fallin remember her first legislative campaign, when she was carrying an unborn child (her son, who is now 21) as she walked door-to-door in north Oklahoma City. 

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb was also honored for his right-to-life advocacy. Students from Bishop McGuinness High School, sitting in the gallery, were hailed for their day of work assisting with delivery of roses.

Bipartisan honorees included House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee and Minority Leader Scott Inman of Del City, Senator Clark Jolley of Edmond and Sen. Jerry Ellis of Valliant. All four men have established strong pro-life voting records. 

Legislators participating in the House chamber ceremony included Rebecca Hamilton of Oklahoma City, Paul Wesselhoft of Oklahoma City, Dennis Johnson of Duncan, Ann Coody of Lawton, Lisa Billy of Lindsay, Sally Kern of Oklahoma City, and state Sen. Mike Schulz of Altus. 

Former state Rep. Kevin Calvey, now working at Oklahomans for Life, was among attendees; Jason Reese, a Senate hopeful in the upcoming District 46 special election took part in the day. 

Catholic Archbishop Paul. S. Coakley delivered a morning prayer, while Dr. Douglas O. Melton of the Baptist General Convention gave the benediction in early afternoon. 

Heidi Wilburn of the Baptist Convention was chairman for Rose Day. Rep. Pam Peterson, a Tulsa Republican, was M.C. 

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An early flashpoint in debate over life issues came Monday, when the Senate Health and Human Services Committee began consideration of Senate Bill 1433, “The Personhood Act.” 

Oklahomans for Life  encouraged support for the measure. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Crain of Tulsa, a Republican, drew opposition from Sen. Connie Johnson a Democrat, who contended it would harm women. 

The personhood efforts have proven contentious in other states, including in Mississippi, where a referendum on the issue failed last year. Tony Lauinger of Oklahomans for Life disagreed with opponents of this state’s proposal, saying it establishes a “foundational principle” valuing the life unborn children. 

Varied opponents have challenged the bill, saying it could have devastating unintended consequences, including severe limits on the practice of in-vitro fertilization. Dr. Eli Reshef of the Bennett Fertility Institute, opposes the measure, pointing to what he termed vagueness and other challenges in its provisions. 

The proposal cleared the panel and is headed to the Senate floor.

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Monday (February 6) marked establishment of the bi-partisan Oklahoma Legislative Prayer Caucus. Co-chairs of the prayer caucus include Rep. Sally Kern, a Republican, and Rep. Donnie Condit of McAlester, a Democrat. 

At the event in the Capitol Rotunda, a few hours before the State of the State Speech, members of both parties participated. While there was a Republican-leaning mix, Democrats like Condit and Rep. Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City attended.

Speakers at the event marking formal organization of the Oklahoma Legislative Prayer Caucus included U.S. Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma City, Lt Gov. Lamb, and Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello. Gov. Fallin provided a supportive message.

Attendees were encouraged to sign a “Call to Prayer Proclamation” along with the elected officials. In all, roughly two-thirds of the Legislature signed the proclamation. 

Senate signatories include Mark Allen, Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, Josh Brecheen of Coalgate, Rick Brinkley of Owasso, Bill Brown of Broken Arrow, Kim David of Porter, John Ford of Bartlesville, Earl Garrison of Muskogee, James Halligan of Stillwater, David Holt of Oklahoma City, Clark Jolley of Edmond, Ron Justice of Chickasha, Bryce Marlatt of Woodward, Susan Paddack of Ada, Frank Simpson of Ardmore, Gary Stanislawski of Tulsa and Greg Treat of Oklahoma City. 

Members of the state House signing the proclamation include Don Armes of Faxon, Gary W. Banz of Midwest City, John Bennett of Sallisaw, Lisa J. Billy of Lindsay, Gus Blackwell of Lavern, David Brumbaugh of Broken Arrow, Dennis Casey of Morrison, Josh Cockroft of McCloud, Donnie Condit of McAlester, Ann Coody of Lawton, Marian Cooksey of Edmond,  David Dank of Oklahoma City, Lee Denney of Cushing, David Derby of Owasso, Dale DeWitt of Braman, Joe Dorman of Rush Springs, George Faught of Muskogee, Randy Grau of Edmond, Elise Hall of Oklahoma City, Corey Holland of Marlow, Dennis Johnson of Duncan, Fred Jordan of Jenks, James Lockhart of Heavener, Sally Kern of Oklahoma City, Charles Key of Oklahoma City, Scott Martin of Norman, Mark McCullough of Sapulpa, Randy McDaniel of Oklahoma City, Skye McNiel of Bristow, Lewis H. Moore of Arcadia, Danny Morgan of Prague, Glen Mulready of Tulsa, Jason Murphey of Guthrie, Tom Newell of Seminole, Jadine Nollan of Sand Springs, Charles Ortega of Altus, Leslie Osborn of Tuttle, Pat Ownbey of Ardmore, Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City, Ron Peters of Tulsa, Pam Peterson of Tulsa, Marty Quinn of Claremore, Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City, Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow, Todd Russ of Cordell, Mike Sanders of Kingfisher, Seneca Scott of Tulsa, Earl Sears of Bartlesville, T.W. Shannon of Lawton, Ben Sherrer of Pryor Creek, Kris Steele of Shawnee, Randy Terrill of Oklahoma City, Todd Thomsen of Ada, Sue Tibbs of Tulsa, Steve Vaughan of Ponca City, Purcy D. Walker of Elk City, Weldon Watson of Tulsa, Paul Wesselhoft of Oklahoma City and Harold Wright of Weatherford.

Prayer Caucus groups were also formed in Kentucky and Maine this past week, according to Summer Ingram of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation in Chesapeake, Virginia. The call of prayer can be viewed here