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Okla. lawmakers approve bill to make performing an abortion illegal

Oklahoma lawmakers approved a bill to make performing abortion illegal, leaving patients scrambling for services outside the state. (Video: Alice Li/The Washington Post)

The Oklahoma House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly for a Republican bill that would make performing an abortion illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The vote was 70 to 14 after lawmakers added it to the agenda Monday night, catching some by surprise. There was little discussion or debate.

The bill, which passed the Senate last year, would make performing an abortion a felony. Anyone convicted would face up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. The measure heads to Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), who has signaled his openness to signing antiabortion legislation into law.

The law makes an exception if the life of the mother is in danger.

If it is not blocked by the courts, the bill is scheduled to take effect this summer when the Oklahoma legislature adjourns. Unlike several other abortion bans proposed in Oklahoma this session, it does not include the emergency clause that allows a bill to take effect as soon as it’s signed by the governor.

The bill’s future will probably hinge on a Supreme Court decision expected this summer, when the justices will rule on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban in a case that could overturn or significantly roll back Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that guaranteed the right to abortion nationwide.

Tracking new action on abortion legislation across the states

In past years, three states — Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma — have passed near total abortion bans, all of which have been blocked by the courts because of the challenge they pose to Roe v. Wade. But this latest bill, passed within months or perhaps weeks of the Supreme Court’s action in the Mississippi case, could stand a greater chance of taking effect.

In oral arguments last year, conservative justices, who hold a 6-to-3 majority on the court, seemed open to overturning Roe v. Wade and 50 years of jurisprudence that guarantees a fundamental right to abortion.

The Supreme Court has already passed on three opportunities to block a Texas law that bans abortions in the state around six weeks of pregnancy and sets up enforcement via private individuals, rather than state officials, underscoring the court’s willingness to allow at least one state to enforce a restrictive law.

Since the Texas law went into effect in September, patients from that state have been traveling to Oklahoma for abortion care. The state has treated approximately 45 percent of Texas patients who have left the state for abortions, more than any other state, according to a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin.

“A state of emergency exists in Oklahoma,” said state Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R), decrying the number of abortions that have been performed in Oklahoma in recent months. “It’s sickening.”

Unlike several other abortion bans proposed in Oklahoma this session, the bill making abortion illegal does not include the unique enforcement strategy behind Texas’s abortion ban, which empowers private citizens to enforce the law through civil litigation.

The Oklahoma legislature has been making every effort to restrict abortion in the state, Treat said. Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have thrown their support behind several abortion bans this session, including two modeled after the Texas law. Those two bills, both of which have passed one chamber, could still move forward and make it to the governor’s desk.

If Oklahoma stops providing abortions, women in Texas and Oklahoma will have to seek the procedure in Arkansas, Kansas or New Mexico, where clinics are already fully booked, scheduling appointments two to four weeks out.

Reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, abortion providers in Oklahoma had no idea that the bill had passed.

“Are you serious?” asked Andrea Gallegos, an administrator who works at Tulsa Women’s Clinic, one of the four abortion providers in the state. “Oh, my gosh.”

The bill passed as more than 100 abortion rights advocates gathered at the Oklahoma Capitol for a “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally, expressing their opposition to abortion bans that have been proposed this session.

“They gaveled the bill into session and voted on it in the time it took to set up our rally,” said Olivia Cappello, press officer for state media campaigns at Planned Parenthood.


A previous version of this article misstated Greg Treat's title. He is Oklahoma Senate president pro tempore, not president. The article has been corrected.