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Democratic Party Demands Apology, Censure For Lawmaker Comparing Fights Against Abortion And Slavery

The Oklahoma Democratic Party is demanding an apology from and censure of Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland) after comments he made Wednesday as a committee considered his abortion restrictions bill.

"The cavalier usage of racist terms with no repercussions is exhausting. I would be grateful if those who are elected to represent Oklahoma remember that they represent all of Oklahoma, even those of us who are Black and brown," said Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Alicia Andrews.

Olsen compared the push to ban abortion to 18th Century British politician William Wilberforce’s decades of work to abolish slavery. Olsen said Wilberforce died before that happened.

"But three years later, slavery was abolished in Great Britain, and this is a cause of even greater import," Olsen said.

Rep. Ajay Pittman (D-Oklahoma City) asked Olsen to clarify his remarks.

"If I had my choice, I guess I’d be a slave. At least the slave has his life. Once your life is gone, it’s gone, and I’m not minimizing slavery, I’m illustrating the terrible injustice that was finally, finally erased from Great Britain and, eventually, almost the entire world," Olsen said.

Pittman later responded to Olsen's remarks in a statement, saying slavery should not be compared "to abortions or to anything else in the year 2021."

"We continue as policy makers to chip away at the rights of women to choose proper healthcare for themselves in Senate Bill 612, and now we are hearing our colleagues compare these healthcare issues to slavery which also limited the rights of Black women by not allowing them to have a choice not to have children by their slave masters," Pittman said.

This is the second instance this session of a Republican lawmaker using a racist trope in an abortion debate. In March, Rep. Brad Boles (R-Marlow) used the phrase "colored babies" on the House floor. He apologized later that day.

Olsen told KOCO's Dillon Richards on Wednesday he stood by his comments.

"Why they have to in their argument throw dirt on Black and brown people, I do not understand, but it has to stop. We have got to bring the Oklahoma legislature out of the Dark Ages," Andrews said.

Olsen also compared abortion — a medical procedure legal in the U.S. for almost 50 years — to the Holocaust — the murder of 6 million Jews.

Democrats are also asking all House members go through diversity and inclusion training before this session ends and before every future session.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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