For pro-choice supporters, the current state budget crisis has somewhat of a silver lining. Due to worries over school funding, HB 2797, or the “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act,” may not get passed. The possible failure of this bill further highlights the misguided priorities of Oklahoma legislature, and the ultimately self-defeating nature of Oklahoma politics.
HB 2797 begins by declaring the public policy of the state to “make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion and to implement that judgment by the allocation of public funds.” With this in mind, the act would create a fund for the State Board of Education to use in the creation of a program to educate citizens about the “humanity of a child in utero.”
Abortions in Oklahoma are already occurring at a rate of 6.9 abortions for every 1000 women from 15-44 because of several other restrictive laws. The teen birth rate is second highest in the nation, at 38.5 per 1000 girls 15-19.
Ninth through twelfth graders would experience a program that would describe the “probable anatomical and physiological characteristics” of a fetus at regular intervals. All materials “shall clearly and consistently teach that abortion kills a living human being and is against public policy,” according to this policy, with the goal of creating an abortion-free society. Entertainment figures and community leaders, among others, would be educated and expected to promote this. No part of the fund could be used to teach about human sexuality.
However, the bill has only passed the House, and has not made it into the Senate. The issue is cost. According to the state Department of Education, implementing the bill would cost about $4.78 million, with $160,000 to develop the program and $10,000 per high school.
Currently, Oklahoma spends about $8,767 per pupil, and with drastic cuts from the $1.3 billion shortfall of the fiscal year 2017, the bill is being questioned by legislative members. Senate GOP sponsor AJ Griffin said changes are being considered that would “alleviate any fiscal impacts to our school district.”
The focus on this bill, when Oklahoma City schools just announced over 200 teacher layoffs, shows the priorities that led Oklahoma to the brink. Instead of arguing over how to raise money, legislators are arguing over how lower the cost of an anti-abortion bill.
Lowering taxes, a movement spearheaded by the same conservatives that supported this bill, has led to an inability to fund the programs that align with their views. Instead legislators are attempting to fix the revenue issue now, while still spending time on bills such as these, which enforce a social agenda Oklahoma simply does not have the money for. So while the possible defeat of this bill might hearten pro-choice supporters, it might be frightening that politicians choose to still argue over this issue while the state’s education system is getting cut millions of dollars in next year’s budget.