Oklahoma passes strictest abortion ban; services to stop

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that bans all abortions with few exceptions, with providers saying they would stop performing the procedure as soon as the governor signs it into law, in the latest example of the national campaign of the Republican Party to restrict access to what has been a constitutional right for almost half a century.

This year, Oklahoma lawmakers have already passed half a dozen anti-abortion measures, and while abortion providers across the country have been bracing for the possibility that the new conservative majority on the US Supreme Court. The US further restricts the practicethat has been especially the case in Oklahoma and Texas.

Two of Oklahoma’s four abortion clinics have already stopped performing abortions after the governor signed a six-week ban. earlier this month, and a lawyer for the other two independent clinics said Thursday that they will no longer offer services once the bill is signed. The bill is likely to hit Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk early next week, and the first-term Republican running for re-election has already said he would sign any anti-abortion bill the Legislature sends him. . It would enter into force immediately upon signature.

“This bill could go into effect at any time, and once it does, anyone can sue the clinic, the doctors, anyone else involved in providing an abortion in Oklahoma,” said Rabia Muqaddam, attorney of the Center for Reproductive Health. Rights, which represents Oklahoma clinics in legal challenges against several proposed new anti-abortion laws.

The bills are part of an aggressive push in Republican-led states. across the country to reduce the right to abortion. It comes on the heels of a leaked opinion draft from the nation’s supreme court suggesting the justices are considering weakening or overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade who legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago.

The invoice by Collinsville Republican Rep. Wendi Stearman would ban all abortions except to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest that has been reported to authorities.

“Is our objective to defend the right to life or not?” Stearman questioned his colleagues before the bill passed on a 73-16 vote, mostly along party lines.

The bill specifically authorizes doctors to remove a “stillborn child caused by miscarriage” or miscarriage, or remove an ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening emergency that occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, often in a fallopian tube. and early in pregnancy.

With all abortion clinics in the state expected to stop offering services, it’s unclear where a woman who qualified under one of these exemptions would go to get an abortion because providers say many doctors would be afraid of breaking the law.

The bill also does not apply to the use of Plan B, other morning-after pills, or any type of birth control.

Because the bill defines an “unborn child” as a human fetus or embryo at any stage of gestation from fertilization to birth, it is not expected to apply to in vitro fertilization, which is when the eggs they are fertilized in a laboratory before being transferred to a woman’s uterus, said Dr. Eli Reshef, a fertility specialist in Oklahoma City.

“(The bill) does not criminalize what we do,” Reshef said. “No matter one’s position on abortion, we are not concerned that the bill will harm our profession in particular.”

The bill is one of at least three anti-abortion bills sent this year to Stitt. Another abortion bill similar to a Texas bill passed last year that bans the procedure after cardiac activity can be detected in the embryo, which experts say is about six weeks old, has already gone into effect and has drastically reduced the practice in Oklahoma. Another bill that will go into effect this summer would make it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. That bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest.

“At this point, we are setting ourselves up for the most restrictive environment politicians can create: a total abortion ban with no exceptions,” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which stopped providing abortions in two from its Oklahoma Clinics after the six-week ban went into effect earlier this month. “It’s the worst case scenario for abortion care in the state of Oklahoma.”

Like the Texas law, the Oklahoma bill would allow private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion. After the US Supreme Court allowed this mechanism To stay in place, other Republican-led states tried to copy the Texas ban. governor of idaho signed the first copycat measure in March, though it has been temporarily blocked by the state Supreme Court.

After Texas passed her bill last year, there was a dramatic drop in the number of abortions performed in that state, with many women going to Oklahoma. and other neighboring states for the procedure.

There are pending legal challenges in Oklahoma to both the bill criminalizing abortion and the six-week ban in Texas, both of which could still be stopped, but the courts have so far failed to do so.

The number of abortions performed each year in Oklahoma has fallen steadily over the past two decades, from more than 6,200 in 2002 to 3,737 in 2020, the fewest in more than 20 years, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. In 2020, before the Texas law was passed, about 9% of abortions performed in Oklahoma were to Texas women.

In the first four months after the Texas law went into effect last September, abortions at the state’s clinics fell an average of 46% compared to the same period a year earlier. But the studies also found a sharp rise in the number of Texas women ordering abortion pills through the mail and traveling out of state for abortions.

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