OKLAHOMA CITY — Armed with red roses, hundreds of anti-abortion advocates descended on the Capitol Wednesday, pressing lawmakers to support legislation limiting access to abortion.

“I think when a legislator sees a rose coming, he smiles and wants to talk to that person because that’s probably a voter, and certainly someone carrying a rose is not going to be generally unhappy with them,” said John Michener, with Oklahomans United For Life.

“But I think the voters need to learn to be unhappy with a senator or a representative who refuses to do his job and protect innocent lives in his jurisdiction.”

Michener said he attended the event to increase awareness of Senate Bill 13, which would criminalize abortion starting at conception.

It’s one of nearly a dozen anti-abortion measures that lawmakers will consider sending to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk in the coming weeks. Other measures include a prohibition on abortions once the gender of an unborn child has been determined and revoking the licenses of physicians who perform abortions.

More than half of the state’s 101 representatives, the governor, the lieutenant governor and nearly two dozen state senators participated in the 28th annual Rose Day event, which also held a special ceremony in the House chamber.

Katie Knutter, advocacy director for Trust Women, a pro-abortion rights group that also operates an abortion clinic in Oklahoma City, said she wasn’t surprised by the turnout. Pro-abortion rights groups are planning their own legislative event Feb. 14.

“We are very well acquainted with the strength of the anti-choice movement in this part of the country,” she said.

She said the legislative efforts are “simply attempts to make abortion even more inaccessible. … Oklahoma already has some of the most strenuous restrictions in the country for abortion,” Knutter said.

Knutter said she knows a lot of lawmakers feel strongly about abortion, but hopes legislators realize their time would be better spent working on other health care priorities like expanding access to Medicaid, increasing access to contraceptives or recruiting more OB-GYNs to practice in the state.

“We hope that lawmakers will realize there are a lot more important priorities in Oklahoma right now, and a lot more successful ways to improve health and safety for the population,” she said.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, who spoke at the standing-room-only ceremony, though said he wants to make Oklahoma a Top 10 state on the abortion issue.

“We want to be No. 1 in protecting life in the U.S.,” he said.

He said this year’s event was even more important because of legislative pushes in Virginia and New York that could allow for abortions late in pregnancy.

“What also should really frighten us in the United States is that we’re only one of seven countries … that even allows abortion past 20 weeks,” Stitt said. “That puts us in the category with countries like China, with North Korea. So it’s something that’s got to change.”

Stitt said he believes life begins at conception and pledged to work with the Legislature to continue to push anti-abortion legislation.

“I will do everything I can to continue to protect life in Oklahoma,” he said.

State Senate Majority Floor Leader Kim David, R-Porter, said her heart was warmed to see so many people at the event.

David said she has a disabled grandson, and she believes that every life is precious.

“I can’t help but think that if my grandson was born in New York, then they’d probably just kill him,” she said.

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.