Oklahoma lawmakers pass bill banning abortion after fertilization

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Oklahoma lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that would ban abortions from the moment of “fertilization,” effectively prohibiting almost all abortions in the state.

If signed into law, it would be the most restrictive antiabortion law in the country and once again change the national landscape for abortion, as millions of abortion patients face the prospect of traveling hundreds of miles to undergo the procedure. Oklahoma had been a refuge for some women from neighboring Texas, where a six-week ban went into effect last year.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision next month on the fate of Roe v. wade, the 1973 decision guaranteeing a nationwide right to abortion. In anticipation of the court overturning RoeRepublicans in dozens of states have rushed to write laws that would severely restrict abortion access or ban the procedure.

The Oklahoma bill is similar in its enforcement mechanism to the one that was signed into law in Texas last year, allowing civilians to file lawsuits against those who perform or seek an abortion.

Under the Oklahoma bill, those who could be punished include anyone who “performs or induces” an abortion; anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or induction of an abortion,” including paying for one; and anyone who even “intends to engage” in either of the two actions above.

The bill defines “fertilization” as the moment a sperm meets the egg. It explicitly allows for the use of the Plan B pill, a widely used form of emergency contraception often provided to rape victims, but would prohibit medicated abortions. The bill exempts from its definition of abortion any procedure to “save the life or preserve the health of the unborn child,” to “remove a dead unborn child caused by spontaneous abortion,” or to remove an ectopic pregnancy.

The bill makes exceptions for abortion if it is “necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency” or if the pregnancy is the result of rape, sexual assault or incest that has been reported to law enforcement.

The bill passed the Oklahoma state legislature on a 73-16 vote Thursday, and it heads to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s (R), who has said he said he wanted Oklahoma to be”the most pro-life state in the country.” If signed into law, it would go into effect immediately.

Oklahoma state Rep. Wendi Stearman (R), the bill’s sponsor, hailed passage of the measure.

“It is my sincere hope that, in addition to the criminal bill passed this session, this civil liability bill will provide strong, additional protection of the life of unborn children in Oklahoma,” Stearman said in a news release.

On Thursday, Planned Parenthood vowed to take the state of Oklahoma to court over the legislation, saying the ban “must be stopped.”

“The Oklahoma legislature just passed a total ban on abortion, enforced by private citizens,” the pro-choice group tweeted. “This ban will take effect as soon as the governor signs the bill, making Oklahoma the first state to outlaw abortion entirely — even while Roe v. Wade still stands.”

Democratic Oklahoma state representatives had sounded the alarm over the bill. Among some of the concerns they raised were that it could affect in vitro fertilization.

“Looking at the language, it’s hard to see how it wouldn’t affect in vitro fertilization because it talks about as soon as the ovum and the sperm meet, and the egg is fertilized, that means that’s a person,” Oklahoma state Rep. Emily Virgin (D) said, according to KOKH News. “That’s what happens with in vitro fertilization, you create embryos.”

Stearman said IVF was not included in the bill, as it “would be tough” to prove that an abortion had occurred in that situation.

Trust Women, an Oklahoma abortion provider, called the bill’s passage “a gratuitous and cruel flaunting of power by anti-abortion legislators” and noted the legislature had already passed multiple bans this session.

“The litany of oppressive and punitive anti-abortion laws that have come into being this year signal to the people of Oklahoma that their agency does not matter, their dreams do not matter, and that their lives do not matter,” Trust Women spokesman Zack Gingrich-Gaylord said in a statement.

The latest action on abortion legislation across the states

Just two weeks ago, Stitt signed into law a ban on abortions in the state for pregnancies past six weeks, doing so the day after the stunning leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. At the time, he spoke about the state at the vanguard of stopping abortions, which was in part why the state’s new ban included no exceptions for rape or incest.

On Sunday, Stitt defended signing the six-week ban into law without those exceptions, telling Fox News: “That is a human being inside the womb. … We’re going to do everything we can to protect life and love both the mother and the child. And we don’t think that killing one to protect another is the right thing to do either.”

Even in the two weeks that have passed since Stitt signed the six-week ban into law, Gingrich-Gaylord said it had had a “dramatic” effect.

“Our patients are frightened, confused about the new reality they now live in,” he said. “They are angry at a government that continues to demonstrate a reckless and enthusiastic disregard for their lives.”

The group’s clinics in Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, would remain open, he added.

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