How Much Are You Willing to Pay to Defend Oklahoma's New Abortion Law?
Governor Henry first vetoed two anti-abortion bills. The Legislature then voted to override his decision, and that same day, a nonprofit group filed a lawsuit claiming the laws were unconstitutional.
One of the laws would have required a woman to have an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description, just before getting an abortion.
This is now the third time in two years the state has been in a legal battle defending an anti-abortion law, and taxpayers will be footing the bill for the lawsuit.
By Amy Lester, The Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- For the third time in two years the state has found itself in a legal battle, defending an anti-abortion law.
"I think it's a bit irresponsible for the legislature to pass those pieces of legislation," said Gov. Brad Henry.
Henry is talking about two new abortion laws. One of them requires a woman to have an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description, just before getting an abortion. The other prohibits pregnant women from seeking damages if doctors withhold or provide inaccurate information about their pregnancies. The governor vetoed both and the Legislature voted to override them.
A lawsuit was filed, challenging the ultrasound law, the day that happened.
"Do I think it was wise what the Legislature did? No. Do I think they have a right to do it? Yes," Henry said.
Henry said the Legislature is acting irresponsibly because his legal team determined the ultrasound bill is unconstitutional. That's one reason why he said he vetoed it in the first place.
"You have to be careful about blindly passing legislation that you know will be challenged and very likely will be determined unconstitutional because that costs taxpayers a lot of money," said Henry.
How much money? It's tough to put an exact dollar figure on how much this will cost taxpayers. However, there is some idea about the price tag based on past cases.
Over the past two years, the Attorney General's office has defended two anti-abortion laws, including a similar ultrasound law, and lost. The Assistant Attorney General spent time on the cases, instead of working on other things. Plus, the state paid $100,000 for an abortion law expert to help on the cases.
While the Legislature has not appropriated money for the expert's assistance on the new case, the Attorney General's office said high ranking staff in the House and Senate have expressed an interest in hiring her again, with a likely price cap of $100,000.
Why did legislators vote for the bill and decide to override the veto even though experts said it is unconstitutional and would lead to a costly lawsuit?
"It's not our job to put on black robes and put ourselves in the position of judges. That's why we have a judiciary to have them evaluate that," said Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee.
Coffee said that lawmakers vote the way Oklahomans want them to vote and the possibility of a lawsuit is not something that influences them.
"We're passing laws, they will result in affecting people that will result sometimes in litigation, and I don't think that's irresponsible at all. That's just one more in the checks and balances in the system that we have," Coffee said.
This isn't the first time that someone has criticized the Legislature for passing unconstitutional bills. In the case involving the similar ultrasound bill that was found unconstitutional, Oklahoma Supreme Court justices said, just three months ago, "We are growing weary of admonishing the Legislature for so flagrantly violating the terms of the Oklahoma Constitution. It is a waste of time for the Legislature and the court, and a waste of the taxpayer's money."
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Do you agree with the Legislature's decision to approve the ultrasound bill despite the possibility of a costly lawsuit?
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