Oklahoma Governor Signs Bill That Bans Most Abortions

Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma signed a bill on Wednesday that bans nearly all abortions starting at fertilization. The new law, which takes effect immediately, is the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.

The law makes exceptions in cases where an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest if they have been reported to law enforcement.

“From the moment life begins at conception is when we have a responsibility as human beings to do everything we can to protect that baby’s life and the life of the mother,” Mr. Stitt said after signing the bill into law. “If other states want to pass different laws, that is their right, but in Oklahoma we will always stand up for life.”

Passed by the Oklahoma Legislature last Thursday, the law relies on civilian enforcement to get around the constitutional right to abortion that was enshrined by the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

State officials cannot bring charges. The law instead requires private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion — which can include a friend who drives a woman to the clinic. Successful lawsuits in civil court yield at least $10,000 in damages.

Understand the Challenge to Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court’s decision could be the most consequential to women’s access to abortion since 1973.

An Extraordinary Breach: The leak of a draft opinion suggesting that the justices will end the constitutional right to abortion will be investigated by the Supreme Court marshal, but it’s unlikely the Justice Department will be involved.The Court’s Transformation: As it appears to be close to issuing its ruling in the case of the Mississippi law that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court looks increasingly politics-drivenDestroyed Trust: Justice Clarence Thomas addressed the leak, saying that it had done irreparable damage to the Supreme Court.Protests: Following the leak, supporters of abortion rights have staged demonstrations across the country, including outside the homes of several justices.A 17th Century Judge Cited: Lord Matthew Hale, who wrote that women were contractually obligated to husbands, was cited eight times in Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion.

Abortion providers had anticipated the governor’s signature but expressed fresh outrage.

“Oklahoma’s politicians, from the governor on down, are determined to strip rights from anyone who could become pregnant,” said Emily Wales, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “Today, for the first time in nearly 50 years, abortion is illegal — at every stage of pregnancy — in an American state.”

Oklahoma has been at the head of a pack of Republican-led states passing laws banning abortion in anticipation that next month the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Roe. A draft opinion that was leaked this month in a case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy suggested that a majority of justices were prepared to sign on.

How State Abortion Laws Could Change if Roe Is Overturned

The New York Times is tracking abortion laws in each state ahead of a Supreme Court decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade.

Already this year the governor has signed a ban on abortion that includes criminal penalties, and a six-week ban that relies on civilian enforcement.

The civil suit enforcement mechanism allows the law to sidestep court challenges that have blocked abortion bans in the past. The Oklahoma bans are modeled after a Texas law that allows individuals to sue abortion providers who offer the procedure after cardiac fetal activity is detected, about six weeks into pregnancy. The Supreme Court declined to block the enforcement of that law.

Wendi Stearman, the sponsor of the bill in the Oklahoma House, posted a picture of a newborn baby on Twitter to celebrate the governor’s signing of the law. “The success of this bill is a direct result of the people of Oklahoma letting their representatives know that the citizens of Oklahoma value LIFE,” she wrote. “Keep it up, Oklahoma!”

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Oklahoma House with a vote of 73 to 16, after its proponents, who believe that abortion is murder, spoke in its favor.

“There can be nothing higher or more critical than the defense of innocent, unborn life,” State Representative Jim Olsen, a Republican, said on the House floor at the time.

The State of Roe v. Wade

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What is Roe v. Wade? Roe v. Wade is a landmark Supreme court decision that legalized abortion across the United States. The 7-2 ruling was announced on Jan. 22, 1973. Justice Harry A. Blackmun, a modest Midwestern Republican and a defender of the right to abortion, wrote the majority opinion.

What was the case about? The ruling struck down laws in many states that had barred abortion, declaring that they could not ban the procedure before the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb. That point, known as fetal viability, was around 28 weeks when Roe was decided. Today, most experts estimate it to be about 23 or 24 weeks.

What else did the case do? Roe v. Wade created a framework to govern abortion regulation based on the trimesters of pregnancy. In the first trimester, it allowed almost no regulations. In the second, it allowed regulations to protect women’s health. In the third, it allowed states to ban abortions so long as exceptions were made to protect the life and health of the mother. In 1992, the court tossed that framework, while affirming Roe’s essential holding.

What would happen if Roe were overturned? Individual states would be able to decide whether and when abortions would be legal. The practice would likely be banned or restricted heavily in about half of them, but many would continue to allow it. Thirteen states have so-called trigger laws, which would immediately make abortion illegal if Roe were overturned.

Abortion providers have warned that the bans in Oklahoma will stress the entire region; after the ban in Texas, many women seeking abortions flooded across the border between the states.

“We are seeing the beginning of a domino effect that will spread across the entire South and Midwest if Roe falls,” said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Right now, patients in Oklahoma are being thrown into a state of chaos and fear. That chaos will only intensify as surrounding states cut off access as well.”

Planned Parenthood noted that the day after the six-week ban took effect in Oklahoma, the Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic was forced to cancel 35 appointments and send home 10 patients because the pregnancies were too advanced for the clinic to address without breaking the law’s gestational limits.

Andrea Gallegos, the executive administrator at the Tulsa Women’s Clinic, said that it had canceled its abortion appointments for this week in anticipation of the governor’s signature of the new bill. The clinic is working with the Center for Reproductive Rights to file a lawsuit to overturn the ban, but she does not expect the clinic to last long under the current ban.

“Abortions are what we do,” Ms. Gallegos said. “We don’t provide any other type of services.”

In a statement after the bill was passed, Trust Women, an abortion provider, vowed that its clinics in Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kan., would remain open to help pregnant women find services in places “wherever abortions remain legal.” The group called the bill a “gratuitous and cruel flaunting of power by anti-abortion legislators.”