Oklahoma legislature votes to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy

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The Oklahoma House approved a Republican bill on Thursday that would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The law would take effect immediately, cutting off access for patients from Texas who have flooded into Oklahoma since a similar law passed there last fall.

Coming ahead of a highly-anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion expected this summer, the Oklahoma measure shows that states are not waiting for the high court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision enshrining abortion rights before acting to restrict the procedure within their own borders.

Oklahoma’s bill is modeled after the restrictive Texas ban, which has evaded court intervention with a novel legal strategy that empowers private citizens to enforce the law.

The bill, which includes exceptions in medical emergencies but not rape or incest, cleared the Oklahoma Senate in March. It now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), who is expected to sign it, and it will take effect with his signature.

The House vote was 68-12.

“Oklahoma is a very pro-life state, and we want to protect the preborn babies that are in Oklahoma and are in the world,” said state Rep. Todd Russ (R), who co-authored the legislation.

The measure would immediately cut off most abortion access in a state that has absorbed nearly half of all Texas patients who have been forced to leave their state for abortions because of the Texas law.

Several Oklahoma clinics stopped scheduling abortions in anticipation of the bill. The other clinics are prepared to cease operations at any moment.

“It has been next to impossible to plan,” said Andrea Gallegos, the executive administrator at Tulsa Women’s Clinic, an independent abortion clinic that has pledged to continue providing abortions until Stitt signs the bill. “We have a fully packed schedule.”

Stitt signed another abortion ban earlier this month that makes performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But abortion rights advocates in Oklahoma see this latest Texas-style ban as a far more immediate threat than its predecessor, which is not slated to take effect until the summer. The latest abortion ban will also be harder to challenge in court because of the novel enforcement mechanism behind the Texas ban, which empowers private citizens to enforce the law through civil lawsuits and has so far allowed the Texas law to avoid court intervention.

Another abortion ban also modeled after the Texas law, which would outlaw the procedure entirely, is also scheduled to receive a vote in the Oklahoma House on Thursday. That bill is widely expected to pass as well.

Okla. lawmakers approve bill to make performing an abortion illegal

Oklahoma legislators say the flurry of antiabortion legislation is in part a reaction to the recent surge of Texas patients. Of the thousands of Texas patients who traveled out of state for abortions from September to December, 45 percent went to Oklahoma, 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), the leader of the Senate who introduced the six-week ban, referring to the number of abortions that have been performed in Oklahoma since Texas enacted its law.

“It’s sickening,” Treat said. “And that’s the reason we’re making every effort to get our laws changed.”

Several states are not waiting for a Supreme Court decision this summer. Kentucky’s two abortion clinics stopped performing abortions for a week in mid-April, after Republican lawmakers passed a sweeping package of antiabortion restrictions that clinics said made it impossible for them to continue abortion care, a law that has now been temporarily blocked by the courts.

And lawmakers in 13 states, including Oklahoma, have introduced their own versions of the Texas law, which could take effect regardless of the high court’s decision this summer.

Many antiabortion legislators see the Texas strategy as a promising path forward, despite widespread criticism from legal scholars who say it diminishes the power of the courts. Since September, the Supreme Court has passed up three opportunities to overturn the Texas ban, a move some Republicans have interpreted as a green light for this kind of legislation.

In Missouri, for example, state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R) said she felt newly optimistic about the prospects of the Texas-style abortion ban she’d proposed after the Supreme Court announced its December decision to let the Texas law stand.

“I thought, ‘okay, my bill has legs,’” Coleman said of her measure.

Besides Oklahoma, Idaho is the only other state that has successfully passed a Texas-style ban, though several others, including Coleman’s Missouri measure, are still moving through the legislature. The Idaho law, which was slated to take effect April 22 after it was signed by Gov. Brad Little (R), has been temporarily blocked by the state Supreme Court, pending further review.

Planned Parenthood plans to file a lawsuit against Oklahoma’s latest ban. While the Texas abortion ban was heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, widely known as the most conservative circuit court in the country, the Oklahoma ban will go up through the 10th Circuit, where justices may be more critical of the law.

“Unless these bans are blocked, patients will be turned away, people seeking abortion will be unable to access essential care in their own communities, and their loved ones could be stopped from supporting them due to fear of being sued,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote in a statement.

A refuge for Texas patients, Oklahoma clinics brace for abortion ban