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Oklahoma Bill Would Give Fathers the Right to Stop Abortions

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 16, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Oklahoma has been one of the most aggressive states regulating a woman's right to an abortion, passing 20 abortion restrictions in the past five years. But its latest proposal might be its most extreme yet. This week, the Oklahoma state legislature is contemplating a bill that would require a woman seeking an abortion to first get written permission from her male sexual partner.

The bill is almost certainly unconstitutional, and critics of the bill worry that it could do untold damage to women's autonomy and reproductive rights in the meantime. Here's a look.

"You're a 'Host'"

Perhaps the Intercept described it best when it broke the story, saying Oklahoma Lawmakers Want Men to Approve All Abortions. Under HB 1441, a woman seeking an abortion would first be required to obtain written permission from her sexual partner as well as provide his name to her doctor. And the law would give the man the authority to forestall the procedure if he wanted the opportunity to challenge paternity.

The Intercept also spoke with the bill's author, freshmen Representative Justin Humphrey, who said:

"I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all of these types of decisions. I understand that [women] feel like that is their body. I feel like it is a separate -- what I call them is, is you're a 'host.' And you know when you enter into a relationship you're going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don't get pregnant. So that's where I'm at. I'm like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you're irresponsible then don't claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you're the host and you invited that in."

Beyond the demeaning nature of Humphrey's comments, they ignore one of the Supreme Court's central abortion rights rulings. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey the Court found husband notification provisions under Pennsylvania law constituted an undue burden on the right to an abortion, and struck them down:

Furthermore, it cannot be claimed that the father's interest in the fetus' welfare is equal to the mother's protected liberty, since it is an inescapable biological fact that state regulation with respect to the fetus will have a far greater impact on the pregnant woman's bodily integrity than it will on the husband. [The notification requirement] embodies a view of marriage consonant with the common law status of married women, but repugnant to this Court's present understanding of marriage and of the nature of the rights secured by the Constitution.

If the Supreme Court found husband notification requirements unconstitutional, there is little doubt that it would find father (and possibly stranger) consent requirements legal. Yet that ruling seems to have had little impact on Oklahoma legislators. The bill was passed out of a House committee this week and is now up for consideration by the full House.

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