Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a ban on abortion unconstitutional in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, several states have passed laws that make abortions harder to get — limiting who can perform them and how and when they can be performed — or restricting funding for clinics that provide them. Oklahoma's bill is the most aggressive attempt in years, following a spate of new regulations in recent weeks.
On May 6, the Missouri legislature passed a budget that rejects $8 million in federal tax dollars for Planned Parenthood, which provides a wide range of women's health services, including abortions. Missouri is the second state after Texas to cut off such funding.
The same day, Arizona lawmakers passed a bill giving the state power to block Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funding. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed it Tuesday, granting the director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System — the state’s Medicaid program — new authority to decide which individuals or groups can't use the money.
On May 10, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed a bill that prevents patients from paying for care at Planned Parenthood through Medicaid.
Colleen McNicholas, a traveling gynecologist and obstetrician who performs abortions at clinics in Missouri and Kansas (and intends to start work at an Oklahoma City clinic in June), said the Oklahoma bill grabs attention because “it’s so egregious” — but the seemingly smaller measures are greater threats to women’s reproductive rights.
“The reality is, [the Oklahoma bill], if signed into law, really doesn’t go through, anyway,” McNicholas said. “We as a movement block or enjoin those laws.”
The funding cuts or extended waiting times for women shrink access to the procedure, McNicholas said. As does the 2013 Texas law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals that can choose to deny them, the subject of the Supreme Court’s forthcoming Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.
“Each time something like this happens, it creates more burden on providers,” she said. “As that becomes more burdensome, clinics will close and women will lose more access”
On Friday evening, Fallin shut down the Oklahoma bill, explaining that it would not withstand a legal challenge.
“The bill is so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered ‘necessary to preserve the life of the mother,’” Fallin said it a statement.
That doesn't mean the lawmaker doesn't support overturning Roe v. Wade.
"In fact, the most direct path to a re-examination of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade is the appointment of a conservative, pro-life justice to the United States Supreme Court."
Under SB1552, a person who performs or induces an abortion could be punished with between one and three years in the state penitentiary. The legislation also states any that doctors who assist in an abortion that is unnecessary to save a woman’s life would lose their medical licenses.
The bill sailed through the Oklahoma House with a vote of 59 to 9 last month and cleared the Senate on Thursday with a vote of 33 to 12.
The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Nathan Dahm, a Republican who represents Tulsa County. He told the Associated Press that he hopes the measure will lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“Since I believe life begins at conception, it should be protected,” he said, “and I believe it’s a core function of state government to defend that life from the beginning of conception.”
Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for reproductive rights and health at the National Women’s Law Center, said the move is unlikely to hold up legally. The Supreme Court has struck down measures that seek to end the procedure, she said.
“The Oklahoma bill is a flat-out attempt to end abortion,” Borchelt said. “This has long been a strategy of those who want to end the procedure, passing bills that are clearly unconstitutional in hopes they can challenge Roe v. Wade."
Kristen Luker, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said states can regulate abortions as long as they don’t place an “undue burden” on patients who try to obtain one. In other words: A state measure can’t end abortion.
“Making it a felony is an undue burden,” she said. “So, it probably would not stand const scrutiny.”
Mat Staver, who is the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel and worked on the bill with Oklahoma lawmakers, said he hopes other states will follow Oklahoma’s lead and enact similar abortion bans.
“We’re ready to defend it,” Staver said. “We believe it is a bold approach but the right one to draw a line in the sand and stand for the sanctity of human life...
Mark Berman contributed to this report