Emily Virgin

Rep. Emily Virgin

OKLAHOMA CITY — Concerns are mounting over legislation that would require the Oklahoma Health Department to create a government database with identifying information for all women seeking abortions.

Senate Bill 1167 also requires that the agency assign each pregnant woman a “unique identifying number” so that “a care agent” can try to suss out abortion seekers who may be coerced or a victim of family violence or human trafficking.

The bill also requires abortion seekers to be made aware that they might qualify for state welfare programs.

The information in the database would remain private, except if a “care agent” believes coercion or human trafficking are involved. The care agent can then access the woman’s identifying information. Also, the physician performing the abortion must be notified of the patient’s unique number and include it in the pregnant woman’s medical records.

No woman would be able to receive an abortion until they’re assigned a unique number and are screened and offered assistance, according the bill. And, abortion providers must store the woman’s information for seven years.

The measure’s author, state Sen. George Burns, R-Pollard, did not return a message seeking comment about the measure that he named the “Every Mother Matters Act.”

But House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said it’s “very concerning” that a state lawmaker wants to begin numbering women seeking abortions and compile a list of their identifying information.

“It seems like essentially we’re going to be keeping a list of people who seek a legal health care procedure,” she said. “And, once again, we’re treating abortion care as a completely different component of health care when we know that it is an important component of health care.”

Virgin said the bill has provisions that say there shouldn’t be any identifiable information about the pregnant woman, but questioned why the state would want to keep such a list if it weren’t to identify the women seeking abortion care. She also said there are a number of ways in which the woman’s identity would become clear.

Virgin said the database idea seems new, but aligns with previous anti-abortion measures that don’t trust that pregnant women have thought about the decision and discussed it with their family, faith leader and physician.

“Once again, it’s just inserting government into this very personal decision,” Virgin said. “I found it fairly ironic that when someone gets pregnant, these Republican legislators are very concerned about the person or the family getting services, but what we hear from them time and time again is that they don’t want people to be depending on the government for services, and they don’t want to fund those services.”

In a statement, Emily Wales, interim CEO for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said they’re closely monitoring bills as they’re introduced ahead of the start of February’s regular session.

“We are very troubled that lawmakers seek to dehumanize and shame people from seeking care that is deeply personal,” she said, adding that patients are already forced to receive medically unnecessary information and wait days before they can get care.

“This bill and others like it are more examples of government overreach designed to limit access under the guise of ‘protecting’ patients,” Wales said. “Rather than demeaning the people they represent, lawmakers should focus on expanding care and protecting the health of Oklahomans.”

John Michener, Oklahomans United for Life director, said there’s always some new idea about how legislators can regulate abortion. He said the state doesn’t need yet another abortion regulation. He also said abortion should be criminalized.

“It’s a continuation of the status quo when it comes to pro-life legislation in the state of Oklahoma,” he said. “They’re just looking for another layer of bureaucratic regulation to try and slow down the process of acquiring an actual abortion procedure.”

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Stecklein is CNHI Oklahoma Capitol Bureau Chief for CNHI News Service publication newspapers. She can be reached at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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