“Women’s Bill of Rights” defining biological sex signed into Oklahoma law

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OKLAHOMA CITY – House Bill 1449, titled “Women’s Bill of Rights,” which would define “sex” as the natural person’s biological sex at birth, was signed by Governor Kevin Stitt despite criticism that it does not provide new rights for women and LGBTQ+ -harms individuals.

New bill defines gender roles and sparks controversy over women’s rights and autonomy

HB 1449 states that a “woman” is an individual who naturally has the reproductive system that produces, transports, and uses eggs for fertilization, while a “man” is defined as an individual who transports sperm for fertilization. According to the bill, mothers must be female and fathers must be male.

The bill codifies Stitt’s August 2023 executive order in similar language. Representative Toni Hasenbeck (R-Elgin) and Senator Jessica Garvin (R-Duncan) first authored HB 1449. It will take effect on November 1, 2024.

“We have had a problem in recent history where women’s rights have been eroded over time,” Hasenbeck said of the flooding of homes a day before the end of the legislative session. “All we are trying to do is add clarity to the law so that the rights granted to women are preserved.”

Hasenbeck was pressed about which rights would be codified.

“In my view, rights equal freedoms,” said Rep. Trish Ranson (D-Stillwater). “The problem I have with this is that this bill does not give me any freedoms. This bill does not say: ‘As a woman, I now have bodily autonomy, I can have a say in what happens to my body. I can make my own decisions about my health care. That is not mentioned.”

The debate over HB 1449’s impact on women’s spaces and federal funding is heating up

House Democrats questioned whether HB 1449 would create pay equity in the private sector, get government out of women’s hospital rooms and provide better health care.

Hasenbeck clarified that the bill does none of these things, but rather protects areas where only biological women belong, including locker rooms, domestic violence shelters and prisons.

Cindy Nguyen, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said the bill could jeopardize funding for both domestic violence shelters and prisons in Oklahoma because it would force them to violate nondiscrimination guidelines mandated by grants required.

“And many domestic violence shelters are already covered by these grants, such as funding for their hotlines, their sexual assault centers or domestic violence shelters,” Nguyen said. “The actual shelters themselves are funded by many of these anti-discrimination guidelines. So passing this kind of legislation would put that kind of funding at risk. And it clearly appears that the author has not spoken to many people about the harms of this bill.”

Hasenbeck said on the floor that she spoke with representatives of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) during the drafting of the bill.

However, under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), DOC may not house transgender or intersex inmates in special facilities, units, or wings solely on the basis of such identification or status.

“Even though it says it’s the Women’s Bill of Rights, this would actually be harmful to a lot of organizations that provide services to a lot of women, all women,” Nguyen said.

HB 1449 would force trans women who end up in prison to serve their sentences in men’s prisons, Hasenbeck said. It would also allow women-only shelters to deny entry to trans women. Hasenbeck also said it would keep children safe in locker rooms and other facilities.

Opponents call HB 1449 anti-trans

Rep. Mauree Turner (D-OKC) is the first non-binary state lawmaker in the United States. They said HB 1449 is explicitly anti-trans.

“Two-spirit, transgender and gender non-conforming people have always been here. And we will always be here, here in Oklahoma,” Turner said in their debate, holding back tears. “And you can attack us with the words and policies that make you strangely evil. But that doesn’t change the fact that your efforts are harmful. And you know they are harmful.”

Turner, who is not serving, said it was an honor to work on behalf of their district, but the bills coming out of the Legislature are “horrendous.”

“That you could sit here on this floor in the House of Representatives and create a piece of legislation that purports to be a women’s rights bill and, as we have seen, has not codified any actual rights in the worst state that women can live in” , Turner said.

Rep. Mark Tedford (R-Tulsa) debated the bill and said he received more than 70 emails and phone calls about an anatomical man entering facilities in Tulsa County parks and exposing women to male genitalia. He said women who complained to authorities were told nothing could be done because it would be discrimination.

Tedford argued that identity is not the determining ground for gender.

“We can’t properly give women rights until we first define what a woman is,” Tedford said. “Until recently, we did not need to define gender because there was uniform agreement on this common sense and traditional definition.”

CDC’s broader gender definition clashes with HB 1449’s narrow biological criteria, raising civil rights concerns

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines gender identity as an individual’s sense of self as male, female, or transgender, among other things.

“We know that this bill will subjugate women, trans and cisgender women — subject them to greater scrutiny over how well they are fundamentally performing as women,” Nguyen said. “So if you’re in a domestic violence shelter and someone accuses you of not being woman enough, or not being a cis woman, how can you police that without violating someone’s civil rights?”

Gender is intentionally defined broadly, Nguyen said. It is so to expand protections for gender fluid people.

“This bill would define it in a very narrow way, reducing people to their reproductive organs,” Nguyen said. “This bill also seeks to change state law so it can be used to mandate discrimination against transgender people.”