As abortion rights groups rallied at the Oklahoma state Capitol on Tuesday, Republican House lawmakers gave final passage to legislation that would make performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison or ends of up to $100,000.
The GOP-backed bill that passed the Senate last year now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has vowed to sign all anti-abortion bills that come to his desk.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains Interim President and CEO Emily Wales said Senate Bill 612 is “clearly unconstitutional.”
“We’ll take it seriously and certainly consider our legal options,” she said.
Sen. Nathan DahmR-Broken Arrow, the author of SB 612, touted the measure as the “strongest pro-life legislation in the country right now.”
The bill would make it a felony to perform abortions except those deemed necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.
Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, the House author, said the bill requested by the anti-abortion group Students for Life will make abortion “entirely illegal.”
“The penalties are for the doctor, not for the woman,” Olsen said.
Oklahoma Regional Coordinator for Students for Life Faith Elwonger praised Oklahoma for taking steps to lead the way for a “post-Roe America.”
“Protection from conception is the new status quo,” she said.
As Republican lawmakers approved SB 612, more than 100 abortion rights supporters gathered outside the Capitol to decry a slate of at least seven anti-abortion bills moving through the Oklahoma Legislature. Several of the bills would virtually ban the procedure entirely.
On the steps of the Capitol, people chanted “keep your bans off our bodies” and “we are fed up” as they waved signs supporting Planned Parenthood and encouraging access to safe and legal abortions.
Texas’ Senate Bill 8 has shown how much harder it is to defeat unconstitutional anti-abortion legislation with a conservative US Supreme Court, Wales said.
The civil enforcement piece of the law that some Republican legislators in Oklahoma are trying to copy also makes it hard to defeat such legislation in the courts, she said. The Texas law allows private citizens to sue people who help women seek an abortion after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected.
“I would really call it a race to the bottom,” Wales said. “Texas, in a way, inspired other conservative, anti-choice politicians to go as far as possible and be as extreme as possible.”
Abortion bans could have a devastating effect in Oklahoma and across the region because the Sooner State has become a safe haven for many women seeking abortion after Texas last year enacted a law that bans most abortions after six weeks into a pregnancy, she said.
Since SB 8 took effect in Texas, Planned Parenthood clinics in Oklahoma have seen an 800% increase in the number of Texans seeking abortions, Wales said.
Referencing Democrats’ small minorities in the GOP-led Legislature, Tamya Cox-Touré, a co-chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said reproductive rights activists know they don’t have the votes to stop anti-abortion bills.
But the “Bans Off Oklahoma” rally was intended to bring people together to fight for reproductive rights and let legislators know that abortion is essential health care, said Cox-Touré, who also is the executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.
“Regardless of what happens today, regardless of what happens with Roe and regardless what happens with abortion access in Oklahoma, we are coming together right now to say everyone deserves health care,” she said.
Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, is among GOP legislators pushing anti-abortion legislation this year. Among the bills he has proposed is a measure that would prohibit most abortions 30 days after the start of a woman’s last menstrual cycleoften before a woman knows she is pregnant.
Treat said he will continue to push for policies to protect the unborn.
“It’s disheartening and sad to think so many people rallied at the state Capitol to celebrate the abomination that is abortion,” Treat said in a statement. “It underscores the urgent need for lawmakers to pursue policies at every level to protect life at all stages . I am hopeful that abortion will be illegal in Oklahoma and at the federal level one day.”
If Stitt signs SB 612, the legislation will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns in May.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism