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Oklahoma governor signs near-total ban on abortion in push to be nation’s ‘most pro-life state’

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a near-total ban on abortion Tuesday, declaring it to be a big step toward his goal of making Oklahoma “the most pro-life state in the country” as states continue to follow Texas’ lead in imposing new restrictions.

The Oklahoma law is scheduled to go into effect in late August, but legal challenges are expected and the law would effectively be unenforceable unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in an opinion expected by June.

“We want to outlaw abortion,” Stitt said during the bill-signing ceremony. The governor, who along with others wore red roses as a symbol of the sanctity of life, has promised to sign any abortion restriction that lawmakers approve and send to his desk.

The law, Senate Bill 612, bans all abortions, with an exception to save the life of the mother. There is no exception for rape or incest. Providers face criminal penalties up to $100,000 or a maximum prison sentence up to 10 years. There is no punishment for a woman who obtains an abortion.

It’s the latest abortion restriction bill to pass in wake of Texas’ enactment of Senate Bill 8 last September.

The White House challenged the Texas law, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and is blasting Oklahoma’s legislation. Press secretary Jen Psaki called the bill an “unconstitutional attack on women’s rights” and one of the most “extreme” state laws signed to date.

“The Biden administration will continue to stand with women in Oklahoma and across the country in the fight to defend their freedom to make their own choices about their futures,” Psaki said in a statement.

Supporters of the legislation were undeterred.

“The Declaration of Independence states that our rights come from our creator, and that among those rights is the right to life, and that governments are instituted to secure those rights. It is far past time that the government of the state of Oklahoma defend the right to life,” one of the bill’s authors, Republican state Sen. Nathan Dahm, said in a statement following the bill’s passage last week.

The law is different than Texas’ SB 8, which went into effect Sept. 1 and bans abortions after six weeks. Oklahoma’s law relies on the state to enforce it, in contrast to Texas’ civil enforcement mechanism that empowers private citizens to enforce the ban through lawsuits.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health in December, which addresses a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks. Many experts have said the nation’s highest court will likely overturn or significantly chip away at abortion protections in Roe v. Wade, the case from Dallas County that legalized abortion across the country in 1973.

Since Texas enacted SB 8, many women have traveled to Oklahoma and other states to obtain abortions. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that about 1,400 Texans are getting abortions each month at facilities outside the state after the implementation of SB 8, the nation’s most restrictive abortion law.

Planned Parenthood says some clinics have seen a 2,500% increase in patients from Texas.

“Oklahoma heath centers are currently seeing dozens of patients each day who have left Texas to seek abortions. Some providers have reported a nearly 2,500% increase in Texas patients in the last four months of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. And in turn, Oklahomans have started leaving for care in Kansas, Colorado, Arkansas, or even states further afield,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Abortion for the meantime remains legal in Oklahoma, though advocates fear that further restrictions are coming soon.

“It’s a very dark day in Oklahoma. We have been in the middle of a crisis for the last seven months — as Texans have been forced to leave their home states for care — and now Oklahomans may have to do the same. It’s unconscionable,” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes.

“But know this: The law signed today is not yet in effect, and abortion remains legal in Oklahoma. We will fight back against these cruel bans in court because people shouldn’t have to cross state lines in secret to access care that should be available in their communities. Planned Parenthood has served Oklahomans for decades and will continue to do just that. While we have a long fight ahead of us, our doors will stay open, and we are here to provide care with dignity,” she said in the statement.

Oklahoma lawmakers also introduced Texas-style legislation earlier this week: Senate Bill 1503 would ban abortion after six weeks and House Bill 4327 would ban abortion entirely. Both bills, if passed, would utilize the same citizen enforcement mechanism as Texas’ SB 8. The governor is expected to sign both if sent to his desk.

Last week, Lizelle Herrera was arrested for a self-induced abortion in Starr County, Texas, but her arrest was quickly rescinded as there are currently no laws in Texas that penalize those who obtain abortions.


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