The Republican-controlled Oklahoma state legislature passed two bills on Thursday that would restrict abortion in the state — one that is modeled after the six-week abortion ban that Texas implemented last fall, and another that could potentially make Oklahoma the most restrictive state in the country when it comes to abortion.
The first piece of legislation, Senate Bill 1503, is modeled after a Texas law that allows private residents to sue abortion providers in order to enforce the ban. The bill would ban all abortions in Oklahoma after six weeks of pregnancy, so early on in the pregnancy that often people don’t even know yet that they’re pregnant.
Like Texas’s six-week abortion ban, the bill places the onus of enforcement on individuals rather than the state. In other words, the state wouldn’t force abortion providers to abide by the new rules — instead, it would incentivize private residents to enforce the rules by allowing them to sue medical providers or any other individual who helps someone get an abortion. If the bill is signed into law, residents would be able to sue such persons for $10,000 for every abortion performed.
Although the enforcement method of the Texas law has been contested, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the law to stay in place while lower courts consider its legality.
Notably, Oklahoma’s six-week abortion ban would also restrict the defenses a person can make if they are being sued by another individual that claims they’re in violation of the law — a person cannot state in their defense, for example, a belief that the abortion ban is unconstitutional.
According to state Rep. Cyndi Munson (D), the Oklahoma bill was passed without a “questions and answers” or even a debate on the measure.
Proponents of the bill have referred to it as the “Oklahoma Heartbeat Act,” claiming that six weeks into pregnancy is when the fetal “heartbeat” becomes detectable. But medical experts say that such characterizations of what’s happening to the embryo at that stage of pregnancy are wrong.
“What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity. In no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart,” said Dr. Jennifer Kerns, an OB-GYN and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, in an interview with NPR last fall.
The second bill that was passed by the Oklahoma state legislature on Thursday, House Bill 4327, would ban the procedure outright in all cases except for rape, incest and consideration for a pregnant person’s health. If the bill is signed into law, it would be the first of its kind to be passed in any state since abortion rights were recognized in Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling. It would also make Oklahoma the most restrictive state in the country when it comes to abortion.
Both bills now go to the desk of Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has pledged to sign all anti-abortion bills that are sent his way.
Earlier this month, Stitt signed a bill into law that would make the providing of abortion services at any stage a felony. But that law won’t go into effect right away, and will likely face fierce legal challenges once it does, unless the U.S. Supreme Court dismantles or curtails abortion rights protections that were established in Roe.
It’s likely that the bill restricting all abortions that was passed this week will face similar legal barriers should Stitt sign it into law. The bill banning abortion after six weeks, however, will go into effect immediately after Stitt signs it.
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