CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the bill’s status. The House returned an amended version to the Senate for its consideration.
Most doctors who perform abortions would risk losing their licenses by doing so under a new Oklahoma bill.
Doctors who perform abortions — an act the measure defines as “unprofessional conduct” — would be banned from obtaining or renewing their medical licenses under the bill, an amended version of which was returned to the Senate from the House this week. Only doctors who perform abortions to save a mother’s life would be exempt from the measure — the bill lacks similar exceptions for abortions performed in cases of rape or incest.
“This is our proper function, to protect life,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nathan Dahm (R), said last month.
The bill passed the Senate in early March and the House on Thursday. But because it was amended in the second chamber, the Senate must either accept the changes or otherwise resolve them with the House for the bill to advance to the governor. Both houses are controlled by the GOP, but a few Democrats in each chamber voted for the bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has not yet said whether she will sign the bill, Reuters reports.
“Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission year after year to restrict women’s access vital health care services, yet this total ban on abortion is a new low,” Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which advocates for abortion rights, said in a statement.
“The Center for Reproductive Rights is closely watching this bill and we strongly urge Governor Fallin to reject this cruel and unconstitutional ban,” she added.
Several Democrats, outnumbered roughly 2-to-1 in the House, pushed back against the bill in debate on Thursday, suggesting it was misguided and unconstitutional.
Rep. Emily Virgin (D) asked the bill’s House co-sponsor Rep. David Brumbaugh (R) about a statement from the Oklahoma State Medical Association, which said it took no position on abortion but did oppose the legislation on the grounds that it overrode physician judgment.
“We already have a severe physician shortage in Oklahoma, so are you at all concerned about physicians leaving Oklahoma if this bill becomes law,” Virgin asked.
Brumbaugh said he didn’t expect it to have an effect on doctor retention because it only affects those who perform abortions. “There’s no way that this will impact the medical community, and we’ve checked through that,” he said.
More than one Democrat suggested that Brumbaugh is wrongly focused on the effect and not the cause: reducing unintended pregnancies.
After about an hour and a half of discussion, Brumbaugh stood before the House to make his case one last time.
“It’s not about policy. It’s not about politics. It’s about principle,” he said.
He took issue with the suggestion that the effort should have been tabled because it could result in a prolonged legal battle.
“Do we make laws because they’re moral and right, or do we make them based on what an unelected judicial occupant might question or want to overturn? The last time I looked, that’s why I thought we had a separation of power,” he said.
He also suggested that the erosion of the family is to blame for poverty, welfare, drug addiction and other societal problems, quoting a friend who suggested that addressing one will resolve the other.
“If we take care of the morality, God will take care of the economy,” he said.
In the end, the bill easily passed the House in a 59-to-9 vote, with 33 members not voting.