With Supreme Court considering Roe v. Wade, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signs abortion ban into law
OKLAHOMA CITY – Following news that the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn longstanding abortion protections, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation that immediately implemented a Texas-style abortion ban.
Stitt on Tuesday signed legislation that will allow private citizens to sue anyone who "aids or abets" a woman seeking an abortion after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected or about six weeks into pregnancy — often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
The bill took effect upon Stitt’s signature. The new law essentially will halt most abortions in Oklahoma.
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Abortion providers asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block the law from taking effect, but the court in a 6-3 decision rejected their request for a temporary injunction.
Stitt, who has vowed to sign all anti-abortion laws that advance to his desk, said he supported the "Oklahoma Heartbeat Act" because he wants Oklahoma to be the most "pro-life" state in the nation.
Republican legislative leaders said the draft opinion first reported by Politico and later confirmed by the court’s chief justice is a victory for their efforts to protect the unborn.
“When the Supreme Court’s reported vote is finalized, Oklahoma’s trigger law and other proactive pro-life policies we have enacted will immediately end abortion here and set the stage for Oklahoma to become the most pro-life state in the nation,” House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said in a statement.
Supreme Court reversal on Roe v Wade could trigger Oklahoma law to ban abortion
If the court overturned its 49-year-old decision that found women have a constitutional right to seek an abortion, Oklahoma has a “trigger” law on the books that would allow the state to immediately ban most abortions.
Once triggered, Oklahoma would be able to enforce a 1910 law that makes abortion illegal, except when it is necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life.
Performing an abortion also would be classified as a felony, punishable by between two and five years in prison. However, that could increase to 10 years behind bars or fines of up to $100,000 if a law Stitt recently approved is allowed to take effect.
In that situation, local abortion clinics would have to immediately stop offering the procedure, said House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman. She stressed that the Supreme Court decision was just a draft and that abortion is still legal.
“This is a very heavy time,” she said. “We're facing down people losing a right that they've had for 50 years. It's not often in this country that we move backwards in such a striking way.”
What to know about Oklahoma's new Texas-style abortion ban
Stitt on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 1503 that closely copies a restrictive abortion law implemented in Texas.
Oklahoma's law would be enforced through civil lawsuits against those who help a woman get an abortion after about six weeks into her pregnancy. Successful plaintiffs could be awarded at least $10,000 in damages.
Women seeking an abortion could not be sued.
The bill was co-authored by Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, and Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell.
"Combined with other Oklahoma statutes now on the books, it is hoped the practice of abortion will cease in our state for all time," Russ said in an earlier statement. "We will continue our work until that is accomplished."
The law includes exceptions for women who undergo an abortion due to a medical emergency. There is an exception for rape or incest if the woman reports the crime to law enforcement first.
Virgin accused GOP lawmakers of haphazardly approving as many anti-abortion laws as possible so they have something to tout on the campaign trail.
"It's offensive to Oklahomans that everybody just seems to be racing to get the latest bill to the governor's desk and get the latest press release and … somehow take credit for the ending of a safe and important procedure in Oklahoma," she said.
Republican lawmakers are taking every avenue possible to prevent abortion in Oklahoma, said Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow. Dahm is running for the U.S. Senate.
Asked if he had any concerns that banning the procedure could force women to pursue unsafe abortion methods, Dahm said that's not a valid concern considering government should be focused on protecting the unborn.
"We have been very intentional and deliberate in our attempts to end abortion here in the state of Oklahoma," Dahm said. "One of our main responsibilities in government is to protect life, and that has been our deliberate intention with these bills."
What happens if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court?
Providers painted a grim picture of what happens next if the Supreme Court rolls back abortion protections.
Officials with Planned Parenthood Great Plains said the thousands of Texans traveling across state lines to get an abortion could be a sign of what's to come in many red states.
“We are already living in a virtually post-Roe world in our region," said Dr. Iman Alsaden, the organization's medical director. "We have been seeing people go to extreme lengths to access abortion care."
In the four-state region covered by Planned Parenthood Great Plains, Missouri and Arkansas are the other states with "trigger" laws on the books.
If implemented, “it would mean an immediate loss of their constitutional protections," Planned Parenthood Great Plains Interim President and CEO Emily Wales said.
Dahm said he expects abortion policies could drastically differ from state to state if the Supreme Court's official opinion is in keeping with its draft.
"There will be some states, like probably Colorado, that will push for abortion vacations to try to get people to come out there to get their abortion in Colorado," he said. "Other states will go the opposite direction. In Oklahoma, we will do everything we can to protect life from conception."
Colorado recently enacted a law that enshrines the right to an abortion and blocks public entities for denying or restricting that right.
Kansas voters will decide this year on whether their state constitution protects abortion rights.
Treat, the Republican leader of the state Senate, has proposed similar legislation that would explicitly state Oklahoma's constitution does not include any abortion protections. Lawmakers have not made a final decision on whether that question will be referred to voters this year.
Noting that some state supreme courts have interpreted abortion protections in their state constitution, Wales suggested abortion rights groups can continue to challenge restrictive laws in court, although their strategy will have to change.
"Although this is a very dark day, and absolutely concerning to us, it's also the first time we can say out loud what has been true — we are not in a place in this country where people have access to care on the same level across the states," Wales said.