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LIFE DIGEST: Oklahoma bill barring state funds for abortions becomes law

WASHINGTON (BP)–Oklahoma pro-life advocates finally achieved enactment of an abortion-restricting measure, even though the governor refused to sign it into law.

A bill barring state-funded, elective abortions became law May 23 after five days passed without action by Gov. Brad Henry. In Oklahoma, a bill becomes law if the governor has not signed it or vetoed it five days after he receives it.

The new law bars public funds, state-run medical facilities and state employees from being used for abortions except when a mother’s life is endangered or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. It marked a fall-back position for pro-lifers after Henry vetoed a similar measure that provided an exception only for the mother’s life.

The new law is “Round 2” of the legislature’s attempt to remove Oklahoma from “the abortion business,” Sen. James Williamson of Tulsa said in a written statement. Williamson, the author of both bills, called the measure “a great victory for the unborn.”

Williamson, a Republican, said the changes from his original bill addressed the “two main objections” to it. His initial proposal “was never intended to prevent doctors from discussing viable medical options with their patients, nor did [it] prohibit the use of Medicaid dollars for abortions in cases of rape or incest,” he said.

The new law bans state employees from “encouraging” abortion, but it allows doctors to discuss abortion as a medical option. It also mandates that doctors will provide reports to demonstrate they are abiding by state laws regarding abortion.

The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma strongly backed the original bill and commended the enactment of the revised version.

“Oklahoma Baptists applaud state legislators from both chambers and both sides of the aisle who have consistently stood for life and have sought for years to pass pro-life legislation. We rejoice in the victory of SB 139 becoming law,” said Anthony L. Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “We are very encouraged that more than 75 percent of Oklahoma legislators listened to the hearts of their constituents and have stood strong in protecting the life of the unborn in our state.†

“While I respect the governor’s right to decline from signing the bill into law, we are extremely disappointed that he continues to refuse to take a stand for the unborn.”

The Senate approved the revised bill in a 34-14 vote May 16, two days after the House of Representatives voted 77-19 for it.

Henry, a Democrat, vetoed the original measure, and the Senate twice fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to override his veto.

ATHLETES GET NO AID FOR PREGNANCY ñ- A committee will examine the NCAA’s rules on pregnancy following reports of female athletes having abortions to retain their scholarships.

Seven women at Clemson University in South Carolina have had abortions in recent years, largely because they feared losing their athletic scholarships, according to a May 12 report by ESPN. The cable sports network also reported Cassandra Harding, a triple jumper at Memphis University, lost her scholarship when she gave birth after considering an abortion. Harding returned to school and the track and field team without a scholarship, eventually gaining back three-fourths of her previous aid for her senior year.

At both schools, athletes had to sign statements that threatened loss or reduction of financial aid if they became pregnant and could not compete, according to ESPN.

The head of the NCAA’s committee on women’s athletics criticized such policies. “I would never approve of, sanction or defend that process,” said Janet Kittell, associate athletic director at Indiana University, according to the Associated Press.

The committee on women’s athletics will meet in July to discuss the subject, AP reported.

The NCAA’s rules on pregnant athletes “are vague, insufficient, ineffective, whatever word you want to put there,” said Beth Sorenson, a professor at Wright State University in Ohio who is spearheading a campaign urging schools to establish policies protecting the scholarships of pregnant athletes, according to AP. Only 26 of more than 270 NCAA Division I schools have policies on pregnant athletes, and only a few provide protection for them, Sorenson told AP.

Some critics say the situation may be evidence of a violation of Title IX, the law that bars discrimination based on sex at federally funded colleges. The law provides protections for pregnant students.

“What do [NCAA schools] do for males who impregnate women when they’re in college?” Sorenson said, AP reported. “I don’t think these athletic departments are running these policies by their own university lawyers.”

TEXAS TODDLER DIES -ñ A 19-month-old Texas boy whose medical care became a legal battlefield died May 19 of natural causes.

Children’s Hospital of Austin, Texas, had sought to remove Emilio Gonzales from a ventilator in April, but a judge issued an order forcing continued treatment. A hearing had been scheduled for May 30 in the case.

Emilio, who was from Lockhart, Texas, died in his mother’s arms while still receiving care at the hospital. “God chose to take Emilio at this time,” said Jerri Ward, a lawyer for the boy’s mother, Catarina Gonzales, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The hospital’s effort to discontinue care of the boy brought into the public spotlight what is known as Texas’ “futile care” law. Under the measure, the ethics committee of Children’s Hospital endorsed the opinion of doctors that further treatment of Emilio would be in vain. The law empowered the hospital to require his transfer to another medical facility within 10 days or to end his care.

Emilio, who had been in the hospital since December, was believed to have Leigh’s disease, a nervous system disorder that normally does not permit sufferers to reach their teenage years.

The Texas Senate recently passed a bill extending the time limit to 21 days, but the House failed to act on it, AP reported.

DR. DEATH TO BE FREE -ñ Jack Kevorkian, who said he helped more than 130 people die by assisted suicide, is scheduled to be released from prison June 1.

Kevorkian, 79, a Michigan pathologist who was sentenced to a prison term of 10 to 25 years for second-degree murder in an assisted suicide case, will gain his freedom by parole after serving more than eight years.

He has promised he will not participate in any assisted suicides but plans to promote the legalization of the practice, according to AP. Oregon is the only state with legalized assisted suicide.

“It’s got to be legalized,” Kevorkian said in a telephone interview with a Detroit television station, AP reported. “I’ll work to have it legalized. But I won’t break any laws doing it.”