Oklahoma passes America’s most restrictive abortion bill

Legislation prohibits pregnancy terminations in almost all its cases and encourages private citizens to bring lawsuits against those who practice it

Demonstration for the right to abortion, this Saturday in Austin (Texas).
Demonstration for the right to abortion, this Saturday in Austin (Texas).Brandon Bell (AFP)

Oklahoma on Thursday approved the most restrictive abortion legislation in the United States. It will rely on lawsuits filed by private citizens and prohibit voluntary pregnancy terminations in almost all cases. Once signed by the governor, it will take effect immediately. Oklahoma’s legislative initiative is even stricter than the one approved last year by Texas, and comes as the county awaits a ruling by the Supreme Court involving Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 recognized the constitutional right to abortion in the country.

The new Oklahoma law, based on the Texas one but revised and expanded, will prohibit abortion from the moment of fertilization. The Texas law, also known as the heartbeat law, allows it up to the sixth week of pregnancy.

The bill was approved by a large majority of Oklahoma lawmakers -76 votes in favor and only 16 against- and it leaves health personnel and anyone who “aids or abets” abortions exposed to civil lawsuits from private citizens. Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican who promised to make Oklahoma the most anti-abortion state in the country, is expected to sign it shortly.

The country is thus divided into two halves, which also show the gap between Republicans and Democrats at a politically delicate moment, with mid-term elections on November 8.

If the bill is signed into law by Governor Stitt -and nothing seems to indicate otherwise- it will have indirect effects in Texas, by eliminating the possibility of legally having abortions in the neighboring state. The bill, in addition, foresees sanctios even for those from outside the state who help Oklahoma women have abortions.

The Supreme Court ruling is expected in the coming weeks, possibly in June. Oklahoma is one of 13 states with trigger laws that would automatically ban first- and second-trimester abortions if the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade precedent.

Two weeks ago, just after Judge Samuel Alito’s opinion against Roe v. Wade was leaked, Governor Stitt signed a six-weeks-after-conception ban modeled after Texas. The previous month he had signed another one that theoretically should enter into force at the end of August, completely prohibiting abortion except in cases of death risk for the mother.

The bill approved this Thursday combines two approaches: to ban abortion completely and to broaden its civil and social implications. Oklahoma is declaring war on any individual, group or collective that contributes to the practice of an abortion. This includes, for example, donors to family planning groups and organizations that protect women from states with very restrictive laws, even if they are far from Oklahoma. It is unknown if this harassment of facilitators includes states that, like New York, are viewed as safe havens for women who cannot have an abortion in their own state.

The new Oklahoma law will offer “rewards” of up to $10,000 for those who report an abortion, as well as compensatory damages, including among others for “emotional distress.” The bill exempts women who have an abortion from lawsuits, as it is viewed as a red line that legislatures don’t dare cross at the moment.

Abortions will be allowed if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, as long as the crime has been reported.

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