Oklahoma Immigration Laws Must Be Replaced

Craig Dathe

The spring of 2010 will go down in US history for the contentious legislation that was passed during its interim.  On April 23 the new Arizona immigration law was signed into action, and four days later abortion legislation followed suit in Oklahoma.

The abortion law will prove to be the most enduringly controversial, because the debate over abortion is one that is virtually impossible to reconcile.  No one side can ever be definitively proven as more correct than the other because each is founded upon equally important ethical principles.

First, let’s examine what is actually written in the Oklahoma legislation.  It contains material from two separate bills that were passed into law together.  One of them requires women who seek abortions to listen to ultrasounds of the fetuses as well as a doctor’s detailed description of said fetus: its heart rate, physical development, etc.  The other bill protects physicians from lawsuits if they provide inaccurate reports or withhold information about the fetus from pregnant women.  Apparently this law is supposed to prevent discrimination against fetuses with disabilities.

This is heavy stuff.  The Center for Reproductive Rights asserts that this legislation is one of the most extreme anti-abortion laws ever passed in the United States, and Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, whose vetoes of the bills were overridden by Oklahoma state legislature, is confident that the new laws will be “overturned by the courts as unconstitutional” and will prove to be only a “waste of taxpayers’ time and money” in the end.  However, do not underestimate a legislative override.  Three quarters of state legislators were required to vote for it, which is an extraordinary margin in a democratic legislature.  There had to be a lot of Oklahomans pushing for these bills for them to be passed into law.

Most American liberals, like many in the Bay Area, find this legislation invasive.  Yet as we can see, the vast majority of Oklahoma residents disagree.

So how did this difference in opinions come about?  Most moral discussions are settled by measuring the conflict at hand against the three basic ethical principles. They are fairness, autonomy, and that all human life is of equal, and substantial, value.

However, the issue before us illustrates what happens when one of these ethical principles clashes with another. In the case of abortion we have “autonomy” and “pro-choice” on one side, and “pro-life” and “all human life is of equal and substantial value” on the other.

The pro-choice argument is one with which we are all very familiar. It evokes the principle of autonomy, declaring that human beings have the right to choose for themselves.  The new Oklahoma laws are very subversive in that they do not confront this principle head-on: nowhere does it say that women cannot have an abortion.  Instead, they just make it very, very difficult to do so.

Of course, the Bay Area finds this completely unacceptable. One would hope that a woman will think about her decision before getting an abortion, and the sentiment behind the first piece of legislation evokes that concern.  But around here, the right to choose is so important that any impediment to said choosing process is considered outrageous.

Understanding the pro-choice/autonomy argument is easy for the majority of our community.  Now, do your best to sympathize with the other side.

As much as the autonomy principle rules the roost in the Bay Area, the “value of life” principle governs the mindset of the people of Oklahoma, and of most socially conservative Americans in general. To the average Oklahoman, abortion and stem-cell research are murder.

This attitude requires more creative thinking than does the one for autonomy.  It requires us to imagine these abstract objects called embryos and fetuses as potential human beings.  Consider, for a moment, that your best friend had never been born because he/she was aborted.  Really let the emotional impact of that concept settle in. You could be a very different person.  To the average Oklahoman, you would be different for the worse.  Every human being, no matter how outwardly significant, has the power of change, and to snuff that power out before its time is a crime of the highest order.

It is probably easier now to understand why Oklahomans are so militantly against abortion that their elected representatives would overturn their governor’s veto.  It is important to understand the debate so that one can intelligently converse with someone who puts greater weight on the other, and equally legitimate, ethical principle.  However, this legislation is obviously unethical.

The first bill is passable: it’s irritating and insulting to the intelligence of women seeking abortions, but if one has their heart and mind set on going through with the operation, then a couple fetus heartbeats coming through a speaker shouldn’t change anything.  But the second bill, the one concerning the sharing of information about pregnancies, is just plain dangerous.

Forget about the person-to-be for a moment; instead, think about the person sitting there on that doctor’s table, nervous and scared, trusting that the guy in the lab coat is being honest and supportive.  The Oklahoma state government is going to protect doctors who lie to this person?  That is wrong on so many levels.  If we are forced to choose, the fully-grown person sitting on the doctor’s table must get her rights protected before the bundle of cells sitting inside her does.

This should be true of all legislation concerning abortion, no matter which ethical principle one values more.  Protecting the unborn life form before the fully-grown one creates very nasty situations, because from the get-go the baby is going to be unwanted.  It is indeed possible that through the emotional process of childbirth the mother may have a change of heart, or someone might happily adopt the baby, but we must operate in the moment.  In the moment of this decision, the woman has chosen to undergo an operation for abortion instead of carrying through with the pregnancy, and that statement is too powerful to be ignored.

Getting an abortion isn’t brain surgery, but it isn’t as simple as getting a blood test, either.  The woman’s reasons for that decision are not important.  Somehow this person has decided, and the verdict is out: this baby is not wanted.  Who would want someone to be born with the burden of being unwanted?  And if you really want to get into the reasoning side of the decision, then how do you tell a woman who as been raped that she must give birth to her rapist’s child?  I would hope that if an anti-abortion law were passed then this situation would be properly addressed, but the potential for this situation to occur helps to illuminate the complexity of the debate over abortion legislation.

What’s more, the “equality” clause from the value of life principle can be used to argue for the side of pro-choice.  Pregnancy can be a very difficult condition, especially in its later stages.  In the case of unwanted pregnancies, that condition can be even more handicapping.  For nine months that individual must endure discomfort and the potential for life-threatening medical situations.  Without the option for abortion, women have a huge disadvantage physically and socially when compared to men, who do not have to deal with the complexities of pregnancy in nearly as direct a fashion.  Allowing the option for abortion is very important for the equality of the sexes in our society.

The Oklahoma laws must be repealed, and they probably will be repealed.  They represent the beginning of a slippery slope down a very dark path, a path that will solve nothing and instead will create more problems.  A newborn infant does not have the power to decide its fate yet, and it should not be brought into the world under the assumption that, hey, someone’s gonna want it.  Sometimes we get more than we bargained for, and the fruit of our missteps should not have to spend a lifetime with the burden of being a mistake.