Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma passed a bill on Thursday that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, typically around six weeks into pregnancy and before many even know they are pregnant.
The Oklahoma Heartbeat Act will take immediate effect as soon as Gov. Kevin Stitt signs the bill, which is expected as early as Friday. Stitt has committed to signing any anti-abortion legislation that comes across his desk and has previously described himself as America’s “most pro-life governor.”
Earlier this month, Oklahoma enacted a different bill that nearly totally bans abortion except in cases where the pregnant person’s life is endangered. Under that bill, anyone who performs an abortion would face up to 10 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. It will take effect in August unless barred by the courts.
The new bill, which was passed without debate or any questions allowed, is modeled after a Texas law that went into effect last year. It has exceptions for cases where the pregnant person’s life is endangered, but not for cases of rape, incest, or fetal conditions that make life unsustainable after birth. It also imposes additional reporting requirements on physicians and allows private individuals to seek civil penalties, including at least $10,000 in damages, against anyone who aids in or performs an abortion after the six-week term. That’s designed to circumvent current legal limitations on the government’s ability to go after abortion providers.
“It’s identical to the bill that was enacted by the Texas Legislature last year, and that bill has passed muster with the United States Supreme Court,” Tony Lauinger, the chairman of Oklahomans for Life, told the AP. (The Supreme Court, however, never held a full hearing on the bill and merely dismissed a case challenging the bill in a brief order without explaining its reasoning.)
“We are hopeful that this bill will save the lives of more unborn children here in Oklahoma as well,” Lauinger added.
Abortion advocates challenged the bill in the Oklahoma Supreme Court late Thursday, arguing that it prevents Oklahomans from accessing constitutionally protected abortion care.
“For those able to scrape together the necessary funds, [the bill] will force them to travel out of state to access abortion care. Others will attempt to self-manage their own abortions without medical supervision. And many Oklahomans will have no choice but to continue their pregnancies against their will,” they write in the lawsuit.
It’s the latest in a series of anti-abortion laws passed in Oklahoma and in several other GOP-controlled state legislatures that make it all but impossible to obtain an in-state physical abortion, even while the US Supreme Court’s precedent in its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade still stands.
The court will decide a case by early July in which it is expected to partially or completely overturn Roe, which recognized a pregnant person’s fundamental right to seek an abortion, but found that states could still impose restrictions on the procedure in the service of protecting the pregnant person’s health and the potential life of a fetus once it can survive outside the womb. But even if the court doesn’t overturn Roe, the latest Oklahoma bill will likely still stand given that legal challenges to the parallel law in Texas have failed.
Many Texans have flocked to Oklahoma abortion clinics after their state’s heartbeat act went into effect in September. There are just four such facilities across the entire state of Oklahoma, which have seen soaring demand in the months since.
Trust Women — which operates a clinic in Oklahoma City that provides medication and surgical abortions up to the current legal limit of 21.6 weeks — says it has seen a 2,500 percent increase in patients. Even though the clinic has doubled the number of days of the week that it’s open from two to four, patients still may have to wait two to four weeks for an abortion, sometimes forcing them to travel to other states if that puts them over the time period within which it’s legal to have an abortion in Oklahoma.
The passage of the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act will make it even harder to meet that demand.
“Planned Parenthood Great Plains’ providers have served thousands of Texans in the past seven months because of their state’s harsh bounty-hunting scheme, and we have been proud to stand with them and provide essential, constitutionally protected abortion services,” Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement. “Now, rather than serving as a haven for patients unable to get care at home, Oklahoma politicians have made outcasts of their own people.”