The Republican governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, on Wednesday night signed into law the strictest abortion ban in the US, making his state the first to in effect end all access to the procedure.
The law prohibits abortions with exceptions to save the life of a woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest reported to law enforcement.
The law also authorizes doctors to remove a “dead unborn child caused by spontaneous abortion” or miscarriage, or to remove an ectopic pregnancy, a potentially life-threatening emergency that occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, often in a fallopian tube and early in pregnancy.
The law does not apply to the use of morning-after pills such as Plan B or any type of contraception.
It comes in the wake of a leaked supreme court ruling that indicated the imminent overturning by the conservative majority of Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling which established the right to abortion.
The leaked ruling prompted outrage and protests across the US. The full ruling is expected in June.
Similar to a Texas law passed last year and let stand by the supreme court, the Oklahoma ban will be enforced by civil lawsuits rather than criminal prosecution, allowing private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion. Providers said they would cease operations as soon as the bill was signed.
Stitt said: “I promised Oklahomans that as governor I would sign every piece of pro-life legislation that came across my desk and I am proud to keep that promise today.
“From the moment life begins at conception is when we have a responsibility as human beings to do everything we can to protect that baby’s life and the life of the mother. That is what I believe and that is what the majority of Oklahomans believe.”
When state politicians passed the law last week, the vice-president, Kamala Harris, called it “The latest in a series of blatant attacks on women by extremist legislators.”
On Wednesday, Moira Donegan, a Guardian columnist, said: “An abortion clinic in Wyoming was set on fire last night. Today, the governor of Oklahoma signed a total abortion ban beginning at fertilization enforced … through surveillance and vigilantism by civilians. The attack on women is inventively cruel, and it’s relentless.”
Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst for the abortion-rights supporting Guttmacher Institute, said: “The impact will be disastrous for Oklahomans. It will also have severe ripple effects, especially for Texas patients who had been traveling to Oklahoma in large numbers after the Texas six-week abortion ban went into effect in September.”
The bills are part of an aggressive push in Republican-led states. nash added: Oklahoma and Texas are the tip of the iceberg. We estimate that 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion if abortion rights are overturned. And the supreme court is poised to overturn Roe v Wade in the next few weeks.”
It is unclear what will happen to women who qualify under an exception. The author of the law, state representative Wendi Stearman, says doctors will decide which women qualify for abortions in hospitals. Providers and activists warn that trying to prove qualification could prove difficult and even dangerous.
Stitt signed a six-week ban earlier this month. A third Oklahoma bill is to take effect this summer. It would make it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. That bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism