The Oklahoma Legislature gave final approval on Thursday to a bill that prohibits nearly all abortions starting at fertilization, which would make it the nation’s strictest abortion law.
The bill is modeled on one that took effect in Texas in September, which has relied on civilian instead of criminal enforcement to work around court challenges. But it goes further than the Texas law, which bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.
The bill subjects abortion providers and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion to civil suits from private individuals. It would take effect immediately upon signature by Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican who has pledged to make his state the most anti-abortion in the nation.
The Republican-led Legislature has assisted him, passing ban upon ban in an attempt to outlaw abortion entirely. Together, they have put Oklahoma at the head of the pack of Republican-led states rushing to pass laws that restrict or prohibit abortion in anticipation that the Supreme Court is soon likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion.
A leaked memo written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.—along with oral arguments in the case at hand, a Mississippi law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy—indicated that the court was prepared to do so.
If signed by the governor, the Oklahoma bill would cut off another option for Texas women who had been flooding across the state border to seek legal procedures, and it seeks to punish even those from out of state who assist Oklahoma women in getting abortions.
Oklahoma already has a trigger ban that would immediately ban abortion if the court overturns Roe, as well as a ban on abortion that has remained on the books since before the Roe decision in 1973. Two weeks ago, just after the leak of the memo, Mr. Stitt signed a six-week ban closely modeled on the Texas legislation. The previous month he had signed one that will take effect in late August, outlawing abortion entirely except to save the life of the mother.
The bill passed on Thursday attempts to combine two approaches: banning abortion entirely and using civilian enforcement. The US Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court both declined to block the Texas law because it relies on civilian rather than state enforcement.
The Oklahoma bill would allow civilian lawsuits against anyone who performs or induces an abortion as well as those who knowingly “aid or abet” a woman who gets an abortion. That includes those who help pay for them, which could implicate people across the country who have been donating to charitable organizations that help women in restrictive states get abortions elsewhere.
Those who sue successfully would be given awards of at least $10,000, and compensatory damages including for “emotional distress.” The bill exempts women who get abortions from lawsuits, which has been a red line that legislatures have been unwilling to cross. It does not apply to abortions necessary to “save the life of the unborn child” or the life of the mother “in a medical emergency.” It also allows abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, as long as that crime has been reported to law enforcement.
The State of Roe v. Wade
What is Roe v. Wade? Roe v. Wade is a landmark Supreme court decision that legalized abortion across the United States. The 7-2 ruling was announced on Jan. 22, 1973. Justice Harry A. Blackmun, a modest Midwestern Republican and a defender of the right to abortion, wrote the majority opinion.
It defines an unborn child as “a human fetus or embryo in any stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.” Anti-abortion groups, believing abortion to be murder, have tried unsuccessfully since the Roe decision to pass federal or state legislation defining life as beginning at fertilization. Abortion rights supporters have argued that this would effectively ban contraceptive methods that prevent implantation, such as an intrauterine device, but the Oklahoma bill specifies that it does not apply to contraception.
Asked on “Fox News Sunday” how he would help women who carried out their pregnancies despite financial or other challenges that would make it difficult to raise a child, Mr. Stitt blamed the “socialist democrat left” for attempting to abort poor children.
“We believe that God has a special plan for every single life and every single child, and we want everyone to have the same opportunities in Oklahoma, and aborting a child is not the right answer,” he said.