Oklahoma: Pro-Life Nanny State

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 1:15 PM EDT

Statistics collected by the National Birth Defects Prevention Network show that fetuses brought to term in Oklahoma have higher incidences of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal birth defects than in the US at large. Oklahoma babies, for example, are 63 percent likelier to be born with gastroschisis, a condition in which the internal abdominal organs—particularly the intestine—are pushed outside the baby's torso. Such babies require immediate—and potentially risky—surgery after birth, and even survivors may have limited digestive functioning and costly, challenging lifelong disabilities.

Why am I telling you this? Because it all relates back to Oklahoma's general distaste for legal abortion. The Sooner State hates a woman's right to choose; this we knew already, from its plan to post women's medical histories online when they choose an abortion, to its shrinking number of clinics able to perform the procedure (three, according to a very scary anti-abortionists' site; Oklahoma's solidly red-state neighbor to the south, Texas, has 46).

But when the state's legislature overrode a governor's veto on two new medieval anti-choice measures yesterday, we learned something new: Oklahoma hates parents' rights generally, and it's willing to create a nanny state around that theme.

One of those new laws should give every parent, or potential parent, pause when mulling over a job offer in Norman or Oklahoma City. That's because it grants immunity from malpractice lawsuits for doctors who refuse to tell parents that their child will be born with a birth defect.

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So now, in Oklahoma, even if you have no intention of terminating your pregnancy, your doctor is under no obligation to inform you if gastroschisis is present in your fetus—a simple sonogram-based diagnosis. He doesn't have to tell you that the remainder of your pregnancy is critical, that your baby's risk of stillbirth just increased 10 percent, that the child will probably be born abnormally small, that counting the number of your fetus' movements may make all the difference. He may schedule a premature delivery, but won't have to tell you why. He doesn't have to tell you that your life will require a radical reordering after birth. He doesn't need to tell you if your child may die on the operating table on his birthday, or be permanently debilitated and ostracized. He doesn't have to tell you that if you lack good insurance, or any insurance, your family—that child included—could soon be financially ruined.

Oklahoma legislators have trumped a woman's right to choose by granting doctors a major choice on the course of your, and your child's, entire life. Says Gov. Brad Henry, he of the defanged veto: "It is unconscionable to grant a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform pregnant women in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on a patient."

Unconscionable, but legal.

And let's not ignore the first law passed yesterday, which mandates that anyone who requests an abortion be forced to look and listen during an ultrasound. The New York Times reports:

Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma's law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

Sure, it's a government force-feeding of samizdat to a woman seeking a legal service from a private practitioner—the sort of thing libertarian free-market conservatives should be up in arms against. But hey, if it saves lives, it's cool, right? Only it doesn't. An AP reporter caught up with a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based reproductive services manager, who discussed the difficulties of implementing the ultrasound provision. She also discussed the emotional toll it's already taking on patients: "Some have walked out of the room where ultrasound procedures are performed in tears because of what they had to hear."

Most important, though, she discussed how the rule hasn't even had the effect desired by the anti-choice crowd: "She says no patients have canceled an abortion."

Meet the new conservative vanguard of Inner America: Implementing nanny-state rules, sacrificing liberty for some vague notion of public safety, then failing to deliver that promised public safety. You want to say, "Epic fail." But somehow, that doesn't seem epic enough.