OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — When Democratic legislator Rebecca Hamilton retired this year after 18 years in the Oklahoma State House of Representatives, she left a legacy of strong pro-woman and pro-life legislation, which most recently includes Gov. Mary Fallin signing into law a ban on dismemberment abortion.
“There was not a more articulate or committed advocate for life in the Oklahoma House than Rebecca Hamilton,” said State Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa.
“Rebecca is a fine example of what one person can achieve,” added Tony Lauinger, president of Oklahomans for Life and vice president of the National Right to Life Committee. “Sometimes the greatest, most persuasive defenders of the unborn child are women who at one time were on the other side of the question.”
Hamilton’s blog Public Catholic appears on the Catholic portal at Patheos. She is also writing two books: Aborting Feminism, about the effect of abortion on America’s feminist movement; and another that she describes as a meditation.
She has been married for 30 years to her husband, Rodney, and the couple has two grown sons. She attends St. James Catholic Church and is a longtime volunteer at Birth Choice of Oklahoma.
Converted by Communion
But Hamilton was not always pro-life.
After the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the United States, Hamilton became the first Oklahoma director of NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League).
She admits that she helped to establish the first abortion facility in Oklahoma, working for about a month to get it set up and running. During that time, Hamilton worked with the infamous Dr. Joe Bills Reynolds, who was later put on trial for killing his wife.
“God not only forgave me,” Hamilton said, looking back at that time in her life. “He has used me in the precise areas where I did the greatest harm. That is how he works: He uses us in the broken places.”
As an advocate for “reproductive choice” in 1997, Hamilton ran for a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. She lost the first time but won that seat two years later as a pro-abortion Democrat.
But God had different plans for her life. “I was called to the Eucharist,” she said. “Or, rather, I was called by Christ in the Eucharist to the Catholic Church. My conversion happened when I was driving in my car on the way to make a speech. I had done some things I felt badly about, and I asked God to forgive me. I did not ask him to forgive me about abortion, because at that time I did not think I was wrong about that. The outpouring of love I experienced in that moment changed me forever.”
Later, after converting from the Episcopal denomination to the Catholic Church and eventually reversing her stance on abortion, she was again elected as state representative — this time, as a pro-life legislator.
After her third two-year term in the state legislature, Rebecca left office to homeschool her two children. During the 16 years she was home with her family, she served as Oklahoma director for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and volunteered at Birth Choice of Oklahoma, a pro-life crisis-pregnancy center. Then she was re-elected to the same house seat she had previously occupied.
“God didn’t undo what I had done,” said Hamilton, “but he redeemed it by using me to save the lives of babies. It was terribly hard and oftentimes miserable fighting those bills through as a pro-life Democrat. I was pilloried and attacked by my own party, without mercy. But the fact that it was so hard, that I genuinely paid a price, was a gift. God let me suffer for those I had harmed. He gave me the great trust of handing me this opportunity to right what I had done wrong, to actually speak for him for these murdered children, in the same arena in which I had attacked them in the past. He didn’t undo what I did; he redeemed it. And he healed me in a deep way that I did not think was possible before it happened.”
During most of her nearly 20 years representing House District 89 in the Oklahoma Legislature, Hamilton worked tirelessly to protect women and to advance the pro-life agenda. She has been an advocate for human rights, believing that government must support and defend the sanctity of all human lives, from conception to natural death.
Hamilton authored the original Victim’s Protective Order to protect battered women and obtained funding for the first statewide program for adult day care and the first statewide program of domestic-violence shelters. She also passed legislation to prevent law-enforcement officials from publicly posting the private information of rape victims.
In 2005, Hamilton authored House Bill 1686, which was hailed as the most significant piece of pro-life legislation in Oklahoma in 30 years: H.B. 1686 required informed consent prior to an abortion and mandated parental notification before an abortion could be performed on a minor.
State Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Lindsay, the GOP floor leader in the Oklahoma House, called H.B. 1686 the most important pro-life legislation enacted during her tenure and credited Hamilton for carrying it through to a vote.
Billy spoke fondly of working with her Democratic colleague across the aisle, saying, “We may have disagreed on tax policy, but we always agreed on the pro-life issue. I can tell you: Every time Rebecca stood up as a Democratic woman, it empowered the other Democrats who were very pro-life.”
Billy was proud to share stories of how the women — both Democrat and Republican — in the house would sometimes gather in Billy’s office for prayer and how, during a particularly contentious late-night debate, Hamilton joined in a circle with other legislators to pray together on the house floor.
Two years later, Hamilton was the house sponsor of Senate Bill 139, which forbade state employees and resources from being used to perform an abortion that is not necessary to save the life of the mother, unless the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. She also passed a bill outlawing elective abortions in state-funded hospitals, as well as legislation limiting forced abortions.
During her tenure, Hamilton successfully brought to a vote a law allowing prosecutors to file criminal charges against anyone who intentionally causes the death of an unborn child by harming the mother.
Rep. Hamilton was one of six original co-founders of the first rape crisis center in Oklahoma City, which was housed in the local YWCA. Elaine Bryant, another of those co-founders, remembers Hamilton from childhood when they met while studying the violin. Bryant, who now lives in New Jersey, remembers her old friend as a hard-driving, dedicated leader who worked late into the night, enlisting volunteers to prepare information packets, make phone calls, and hang posters.
Bryant recalled, “I don't think I have ever worked as hard as I did when we were involved in that project.”
In addition, Hamilton has worked to bring a wide range of groups together to fight on the behalf of abused women, including the creation of the Annual Day of Prayer for an End to Violence Against Women at the Oklahoma Capitol.
Looking back on her earlier career, when she supported abortion rights, Hamilton said, “I have blood on my hands — but God has showed us how great his mercy is and how much he loves us. I’m a testimony to that.”
Register correspondent Kathy Schiffer writes from Southfield, Michigan.