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Anti-abortion "personhood" bill clears Oklahoma senate

By Steve Olafson

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Oklahoma lawmakers edged closer toward trying to outlaw abortion on Wednesday by approving "personhood" legislation that gives individual rights to an embryo from the moment of conception.

The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 34-8 to pass the "Personhood Act" which defines the word person under state law to include unborn children from the moment of conception.

The measure now goes to the state House where pro-life Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than a 2-1 margin.

Oklahoma's Republican Governor Mary Fallin, who signed every anti-abortion bill sent to her last year, did not issue a reaction to the latest right-to-life measure.

"Oklahoma is a conservative pro-life state-we are proud to stand up for what we know is right," Senate Pro Tempore President Brian Bingman, a Republican, said.

"This bill is one of many Senate Republicans have advanced which affirms the right to life and I am proud to support it," he added.

The Oklahoma legislation cleared the state Senate a day after Republican lawmakers in Virginia's House of Delegates passed a similar personhood measure.

Republican senate leaders said the Oklahoma bill is patterned after a similar law in Missouri that was determined to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

State Senator Brian Crain, who backed the bill, said it would not hamper access to contraception or prevent stem cell research.

But Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said that a state law declaring that life begins at conception could have "dire consequences."

The bill offers no exceptions in the case of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest and could mean some forms of contraception such as the "morning after pill" would be unavailable, she said.

Doctors who perform in vitro fertilization procedures also will be unlikely to continue for fear of prosecution, she added.

"It's a sad day for people in Oklahoma when the Legislature puts them in harm's way," said Skeeters.

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