Oklahoma Passes Laws that Criminalize almost all Abortions
On April 28, 2022, the Oklahoma legislature gave final approval for a bill that would allow private citizens to take action against abortion providers to enforce the law. It comes as one of several bills passed this month by the state’s government to limit abortion access and amid a Republican-led agenda to curtail the procedure.
The “Oklahoma Heartbeat Act,” Senate Bill 1503, would ban abortions at a time in which a physician can detect early cardiac activity in a fetus or embryo, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy - when women are usually unaware that they are pregnant. However, the bill provides exceptions in the case of a medical emergency.
The Oklahoma Senate also passed the House Bill 4327, similar to Senate Bill 1503, which allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers. Though, HB 4327 would prevent abortions at any point of a pregnancy, and only allow exceptions for medical emergencies or reported cases of incest or sexual assault. The bill was amended by the state’s Senate and passed in a 35-10 vote, but will need to be approved by the House before it is sent to the governor.
The Oklahoma Heartbeat Act would further allow private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against an individual who performs or induces an abortion, knowlingly aids an abortion or intends to perform an abortion. With SB 1503, relief would cost $10,000 at the minimum in statutory damages for each procedure performed and include legal fees and compensatory damages. Furthermore, the statute would bar civil action against specific individuals, including the woman who sought or had the abortion. Individuals who impregnated a woman through sexual assault or incest would also be barred from filing a civil lawsuit.
Earlier this month, the Oklahoma House passed a bill that would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a maximum fine of $100,000. The Republican-dominated House voted 70-14 to send the bill to Governor Kevin Stitt, who has pledged to sign every piece of anti-abortion legislation that reaches his desk. However, the bill provides exceptions for abortions performed to save the life of the mother, said Republican state Representative Jim Olsen. The Representative added: “The penalties are for the doctor, not the woman.”
Following the passage of the anti-abortion laws, abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, announced that they had filed two separate challenges to SB 1503 and SB 612, the bill signed by Governor Stitt that nearly bans all abortions. The interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, Emily Wales, said in a statement: “These legislators have continued their relentless attacks on our freedoms.” Ms. Wales further stated: “These restrictions are not about improving the safety of the work we do. They are about shaming and stigmatizing people who need and deserve abortion access.”
“We are asking the state courts to uphold the State Constitution and apply Oklahoma precedent to block these insidious abortion bans before they take effect,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Oklahoma is a critical state for abortion access right now, with many Texans fleeing to Oklahoma for abortion care. These bans would further decimate abortion access across the South."
Oklahoma is the latest state that has passed legislation similar to Texas’s, after Idaho became the first state to approve a law similar to Texas’s contentious anti-abortion statute. Emily Wales said Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic in Oklahoma has seen an 800% increase in the number of Texan women after the state passed its restrictive abortion law. Thus, women around the nation will continue to fight for their rights to privacy, self-autonomy, and abortion.