OKLAHOMA CITY — In response to today’s legislative priorities during a catastrophic health emergency, the ACLU of Oklahoma released the following statement:
The following is attributable to Nicole McAfee, Director of Policy and Advocacy:
“More than 3,600 Oklahomans have died after contracting COVID-19 since March of 2020. In the first days back in the Capitol, instead of urgently working to address the crises Oklahomans are facing as the pandemic continues to take lives, the Oklahoma Senate Health and Human Services Committee spent today attacking access to abortion care, while the House States’ Rights Committee focused on restricting the ability to limit in person gatherings at religious centers. Oklahoma legislators took an oath to protect people’s constitutional rights, not trample on them with harmful dictates and restrictions. The assault on the separation of church and state, lack of respect for the rights and liberties guaranteed to Oklahomans by the Constitution, and the apparent lack of concern for people statewide facing severe illness, eviction, food insecurity, and other barriers due to COVID-19 is not only unfortunate, it is unconscionable.
The freedom to hold and attend worship services is guaranteed by the First Amendment, and also it is constitutionally appropriate for the government to restrict such gatherings, along with similar non-religious gatherings, if medical and scientific experts agree that they pose an immediate and grave risk to the public health. Instead, the House States’ Rights Committee chose to advance legislation that is a blanket statement disrupting the ability to respond to catastrophic health emergencies in a way that centers public health and safety. When government regulations create a substantial burden for religious actors, they should be challenged. But religious freedom is not a license to harm others. Exempting worship services from neutral and generally applicable restrictions enacted during public emergencies would harm others and is the type of religious preference that the Constitution forbids.”
The following is attributable to Tamya Cox-Touré, Executive Director:
“The ACLU of Oklahoma is committed to protecting the right to abortion health care for all Oklahomans. Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision that must be left to pregnant people. Pregnant people, not politicians, should make the informed decisions when it comes to their own pregnancy. That the Health and Human Services Committee not only prioritized but advanced blatantly unconstitutional attacks on access to abortion care is an unfortunate misuse of power.
Abortion is a safe, medical procedure. Oklahoma legislators have already created a web of medically unnecessary, politically-motivated restrictions that push abortion care out of reach for many, but particularly for low-income people, young people, LGBTQ2S+ people, and people of color. This pandering attack is business as usual for the Oklahoma legislature, in a moment that demands an urgent and critical shift away from politically motivated legislation, centering instead upon expanding access to health care, addressing the vulnerable populations disproportionately suffering from COVID in Oklahoma prisons and jails, and meeting the needs of people across the state who find themselves food and housing-insecure in the face of an ongoing health and economic crisis. We've been here before. We didn't back down then, and we certainly won't now.”