Sunday, February 5

House sends near-total abortion ban to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt

With no fanfare and very little noise of any kind, the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday morning passed and sent to the governor a near-total ban on abortion.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the final vote on Senate Bill 612, by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, occurred as abortion rights activists and others gathered outside the Capitol for a previously scheduled protest against several bans implemented this year by the Republican-controlled state leadership.

If signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, SB 612 would almost certainly be immediately challenged.

While federal courts have recently upheld state laws severely restricting access to abortion, an outright ban on the procedure has yet to be allowed.

A holdover from last session, when it passed the Senate and a House committee, SB 612 would outlaw all abortions in Oklahoma except to save the life of the woman. It would impose a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine on anyone performing an abortion.

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The law would not penalize women who undergo the procedure.

Some might consider SB 612 redundant, since Oklahoma statute already would reactivate the state’s long-dormant abortion laws should Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion, be overturned.

Some think that could happen in a few months, when the current Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in a Mississippi case.

Anti-abortion activists calling themselves abolitionists advocate ignoring Roe v. Wade or any other federal action that permits abortion, but SB 612’s House sponsor, state Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, said he would not go that far.

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Olsen said his bill is intended to have everything in place should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

It could also become a vehicle for a direct challenge of Roe v. Wade if that decision is not overturned.

SB 612 passed off the House floor 70-14, with 16 members not voting. Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa, who is not seeking reelection, was the only Republican voting against the measure.

It was not immediately clear whether Gov. Kevin Stitt will sign SB 612, though he has said previously he would sign any bill restricting abortion rights that comes to him.

House Democrats surprised Republicans Tuesday by not putting up a floor fight, choosing instead to devote their time to the abortion and civil rights rally.

Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she believes the measure was scheduled for Tuesday morning to divert attention from the rally.

Olsen said he didn’t know about the rally until after the vote.

Republicans, for their part, surprised just about everyone by saying very little about the bill’s passage. Not until more than six hours after his bill passed did Dahm issue a statement on it.

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

Emily Wales, interim president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said that “as we rallied outside today, the House approved a total abortion ban — proving they seek complete control over the bodies and lives of Oklahomans.”

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“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.”

Tuesday’s House vote was accompanied by passage of House Concurrent Resolution 1014, by Olsen, declaring Jan. 22 a day of mourning and encouraging Oklahomans to lower flags to half-staff on that day.

Jan. 22 is the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of that ruling.

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