Oklahoma lawmakers on Thursday passed a Texas-style anti-abortion bill that is headed to the governor’s desk and would take effect immediately upon his signature.
The Oklahoma House on Thursday gave final passage to Senate Bill 1503which copies a restrictive anti-abortion law that took effect in Texas in September by allowing private citizens to take legal action against abortion providers to enforce it.
Gov. Kevin Stitt is expected to sign the bill; he has previously said he will sign all anti-abortion bills that advance to his desk from him.
SB 1503, dubbed the “Oklahoma Heartbeat Act,” from Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, and Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, would prohibit most abortions after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. That can occur about six weeks into pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
The bill would effectively implement a near-total abortion ban by allowing private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” a woman seeking an abortion. Successful plaintiffs could be awarded at least $10,000.
The legislation includes exceptions for women who undergo an abortion due to a medical emergency, rape or incest. Women seeking an abortion could not be sued under the proposed law.
Stitt also signed a bill into law earlier this year to make performing an abortion a felony, but it isn’t set to take effect until later in the summer and may not withstand a legal challenge.
The Texas law caused thousands of Texans to seek abortions in neighboring states, including Oklahoma. Before the Texas ban took effect last year, about 40 women from Texas had abortions performed in Oklahoma each month, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. That number jumped to 222 Texas women in September and 243 in October, the agency reported.
Using legislative maneuvers to stifle debate, the GOP supermajority pushed through the bill in a matter of minutes without any questions or discussion.
In a silent form of protest, House Democrats walked out of the chamber after voting on the bill that passed the House on a party-line vote of 68-12.
“The Texas law has already saved the lives of many unborn children,” Daniels said in an earlier statement. “We can achieve the same result in Oklahoma with SB 1503.”
Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, took issue with how House leadership fast-tracked the bill through the chamber without giving the minority a chance to voice their concerns.
“I think it’s wrong to use taxpayer time in such a forceful way,” he said.
He also said the bill is misleading because it includes scientifically inaccurate information that implies an embryo has a heart and cardiovascular system at six weeks.
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, filed an unsuccessful amendment to SB 1503 that would have changed the definition of a “fetal heartbeat” to say the flickering on the ultrasound at that stage of pregnancy comes from electric activity within the cells of an embryo.
Because of an emergency clause on SB 1503, the measure could take effect immediately upon Stitt’s signature, which could occur any time in the next few days.
Contributing: The Associated Press