OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday signed into law the nation’s strictest abortion ban, making the state the first in the nation to effectively end availability of the procedure.
Similar to last year’s Texas law, the state legislature approved the ban that is being enforced via civil lawsuits and not criminal prosecution. The law takes effect immediately upon Stitt’s signature and prohibits all abortions with few exceptions. The bill will immediately take effect and abortion providers say they will cease performing this procedure.
“I promised Oklahomans that as governor I would sign every piece of pro-life legislation that came across my desk and I am proud to keep that promise today,” the first-term Republican said in a statement. “From the moment life begins at conception is when we have a responsibility as human beings to do everything we can to protect that baby’s life and the life of the mother. That is what I believe and that is what the majority of Oklahomans believe.”
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Abortion providers across the country have been bracing for the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court’s new conservative majority might further restrict the practice, and that has especially been the case in Oklahoma and Texas.
“The impact will be disastrous for Oklahomans,” said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the abortion-rights supporting Guttmacher Institute. “It will also have severe ripple effects, especially for Texas patients who had been traveling to Oklahoma in large numbers after the Texas six-week abortion ban went into effect in September.”
They are part of the aggressive Republican push to limit abortion rights in Republican-led States. It comes on the heels of a leaked draft opinion from the nation’s high court that suggests justices are considering weakening or overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago.
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Oklahoma law only allows for the saving of the life or protection of the health of pregnant women.
The bill specifically authorizes doctors to remove a “dead unborn child caused by spontaneous abortion,” or miscarriage, or to remove an ectopic pregnancy, a potentially life-threatening emergency that occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, often in a fallopian tube and early in pregnancy.
It does not apply to morning-after pills like Plan B and any other type of contraception.
Two of Oklahoma’s four abortion clinics already stopped providing abortions after the governor signed a six-week ban earlier this month.
With the state’s two remaining abortion clinics expected to stop offering services, it is unclear what will happen to women who qualify under one of the exceptions. The law’s author, State Rep. Wendi Stearman, says doctors will be empowered to decide which women qualify and that those abortions will be performed in hospitals. However, providers of abortion rights and activists caution that proving qualification can be difficult or even deadly in certain circumstances.
The Texas-inspired bill was already in law. This measure was also one of three sent to Stitt this year.
Oklahoma’s law is styled after a first-of-its-kind Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to remain in place that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion. Other Republican-led states sought to copy Texas’ ban. Idaho’s governor signed the first copycat measure in March, although it has been temporarily blocked by the state’s Supreme Court
Oklahoma’s third bill, which will go into effect in the summer, would make abortion illegal and could lead to up to 10 year imprisonment. This bill does not include any exceptions for incest or rape.
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