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Oklahoma governor signs bill criminalizing the performing of abortions

Demonstrators appear outside a women's clinic in Tulsa on April 6.
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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) on Tuesday signed a bill that makes performing an abortion in the state illegal, as Republican-led states across the country rush to restrict abortion access while the Supreme Court weighs the fate of Roe v. Wade.

“I promised Oklahomans that I would sign every pro-life bill that hits my desk, and that’s what we’re doing today,” said Stitt, who described himself as a father of six. “We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country. We want to outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma.”

Stitt was joined at the signing ceremony Tuesday morning by members of the legislature, faith leaders and some antiabortion groups that have advocated for additional legislation. He sat at a desk featuring a poster with the words “Life is a human right,” which others behind him also held.

The bill, which passed the Senate last year and the House earlier this month with more than 80 percent support in both chambers, makes performing an abortion a felony. Anyone convicted could face up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

The law makes an exception if the life of the woman is in danger but has no exception for rape or incest.

If it is not blocked by the courts, the bill is scheduled to take effect in the 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 in the 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.

From Florida to Idaho to Arizona, Republicans have moved to restrict abortion while Democratic-led states have tried to protect access to the procedure.

Stitt told reporters that he was “so excited about the Supreme Court addressing this issue and giving it back to the states where it belongs.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki criticized the state law, calling it an “unconstitutional attack on women’s rights” and among the most extreme antiabortion bills in the country.

“Make no mistake: The actions today in Oklahoma are part of a disturbing national trend attacking women’s rights and the Biden Administration will continue to stand with women in Oklahoma and across the country in the fight to defend their freedom to make their own choices about their futures,” she said in a statement.

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. 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 the majority on the 6-to-3 court, seemed open to overturning Roe and 50 years of jurisprudence that guarantees a fundamental right to abortion.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a nonprofit organization that advocates for abortion rights, said on Twitter on Tuesday that her organization will challenge the Oklahoma bill in court, calling it an “unconstitutional law.”

“We are at a tipping point for abortion rights nationwide,” she wrote. “Planned Parenthood and our partners are doing everything in our power to stop this total abortion ban and let politicians know — banning abortion is never OK.”

The Supreme Court has already passed on three opportunities to block a Texas law that bans abortions in the state at about 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 September, when the Texas law went into effect, banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, patients from that state have been traveling to Oklahoma for abortion care. Oklahoma has treated approximately 45 percent of patients who have left Texas for abortions, more than any other state, according to a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin.

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.

Caroline Kitchener contributed to this report.

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