Oklahoma Approves Law Banning Most Abortion Procedures

April 6, 2022 by Reece Nations
Oklahoma Approves Law Banning Most Abortion Procedures
Abortion rights advocates gather outside the Oklahoma Capitol on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Oklahoma City, to protest several anti-abortion bills being considered by the GOP-led Legislature. (AP Photo/Sean Murphy)

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Oklahoma state lawmakers passed legislation on Tuesday that would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by a maximum fine of $100,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

The bill, known as Senate Bill 612, prohibits physicians from performing an abortion unless it is an attempt to save the mother’s life during medical emergencies. The text of the bill allows for doctors to evade conviction under the law should medical treatment result in the unintentional death of the unborn child.

The principal author of the legislation is state Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, and its Senate sponsor is Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow. According to its text, the bill establishes exceptions for medical emergencies that include physical disorder, illness or injury as well as life-endangering conditions arising from the pregnancy itself.

“Senate Bill 612 would make abortion entirely illegal, making it a felony … The penalties are for the doctor, not for the woman,” Olsen said in remarks from the House floor. “This is a request bill from Students for Life, a nationwide pro-life organization [that] testified in committee.”

Enforcement of the new restrictions hinges upon the Supreme Court’s tentative ruling on a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on that case in December and a decision is expected to come in late June or early July when major rulings typically arrive.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it will upend nearly 50 years of established legal precedent. Thirteen states, including Oklahoma, have already enacted trigger bans that will automatically outlaw abortions in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy if the Supreme Court allows the Mississippi law to stand.

“Anti-abortion lawmakers have outdone themselves this session, proposing nearly twenty abortion restrictions,” Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said in a written statement. “Not only have they moved seven anti-abortion bills, including two Texas-style abortion bans, but as we rallied outside today, the House approved a total abortion ban — proving they seek complete control over the bodies and lives of Oklahomans.”

“They are more focused on governing our bodies than addressing real crises, like the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic and rising maternal mortality rates,” Wales continued.

Aside from its medical exceptions, the bill contains no other exemptions for cases of rape or incest. As the legislature approved the bill, hundreds of abortion rights advocates rallied outside the Capitol building in protest of numerous anti-abortion measures under consideration.

First introduced in February 2021, no action had been taken on SB 612 almost a year after its initial advancement from the Oklahoma House Public Health Committee. Democrats offered amendments to the bill to diminish its significance.

One failed floor amendment to the bill proposed by Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, would have repealed the bill in its entirety if the law results in litigation costs to the state.

Another failed amendment by Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, would have named the bill “The Oklahoma Blatantly Unconstitutional Abortion Act of 2021.”

“From my first day in office, protecting the unborn has been one of my top priorities,” Dahm said in a written statement. “Senate Bill 612 is the strongest pro-life legislation in the country right now, which effectively eliminates abortion in Oklahoma.”

“Those of us in elected office have a responsibility to defend the rights of the people,” Dahm continued. “No one should be able to intentionally take an innocent life. Senate Bill 612 defends life from conception, will stop the murder of the unborn and end the massacre that has been taking place in our state for decades through abortion.”

A similar proposal, House Bill 4327, currently awaits a hearing in the Oklahoma Senate Health and Human Services Committee. That legislation would enforce an abortion prohibition through civil action instead of through a state agency or the Attorney General, similar to the Texas abortion law passed in May 2021.

After its third reading, the bill passed from the House by a margin of 70 in favor and 14 opposed. Later in the day, the Senate would pass the bill by a margin of 38 in favor and nine opposed, sending it to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk for enactment.

“Oklahoma is facing an abortion access crisis that poses an immediate threat to our community’s health and reproductive freedom,” Tamya Cox-Touré, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said in a written statement. “Our state politicians are gearing up for a future without the protections of Roe v. Wade, advancing nine anti-abortion restrictions in 2022 alone.”

“These harmful bills are an alarming reminder that the days of access to safe and legal abortion may be numbered, and we must continue to fight to guarantee all people have access to the essential health care they need, including abortion,” Cox-Touré continued. 

Reece can be reached at [email protected].

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