In a devastating blow to women across the US, on Tuesday, April 5, lawmakers in Republican-led Oklahoma passed a bill that would impose a near-total ban on abortions. This excludes cases where it could “save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.”
Under the draconian law, medical professionals could face up to 10 years in jail and up to $100,000 in fines. The bill, which was first passed by the state’s senate last year, was revived yesterday without explanation by lawmakers. Oklahoma’s House of Representatives voted to send the bill to the governor’s office by 70 votes to 14.
The bill is now heading to the state’s Governor Kevin Stitt for approval. The hard-line Republican has previously committed to signing “every piece of pro-life legislation” that comes across his desk, and described himself as the country’s “most pro-life governor”.
Rep Jim Olsen, who authored the bill, said that the was “thrilled” that Oklahoma now had “the potential of seeing many lives of babies saved”. He detailed that it had passed without any debate on the floor: “Nobody debated and nobody asked any questions. I was actually kind of shocked.”
As noted by pro-choice groups in the US, the bill would severely impact women across the nation. Oklahoma, in particular, has become a key destination for people in the neighbouring state of Texas after the state imposed incredibly harsh abortion laws last year, including prohibiting abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy — a time when most people don’t even know that they are expecting.
Currently, there are only four abortion providers in Oklahoma, all of which have been experiencing unprecedented demand since last year. As reported by Vox News, Trust Women, which operates a clinic in Oklahoma City, has seen a 2,500 per cent increase in patients. Even though the clinic has doubled its operating days, some individuals are still having to wait between two to four weeks for the procedure. This is something that can push them over the 21.6-week threshold for an abortion in the state, forcing them to try elsewhere.
In a statement, Rebecca Tong, the co-executive director of Trust Woman, asserted that the clinic will remain open as long as it can. “We will not be deterred from providing compassionate health care to our patients — many of whom are our neighbours, colleagues, and family,” she said.
“Nearly half of the patients Oklahoma providers are currently seeing are medical refugees from Texas,” a coalition of pro-choice groups corroborated, per the BBC. “Now, Oklahomans could face a future where they would have no place left in their state to go to seek this basic health care.”
This law would go into effect 90 days after the state legislature adjourns at the end of May unless there is intervention from the courts. Pro-choice groups are preparing to file legal challenges to the bill, using 1973’s Roe v. Wade, which ruled to recognise a pregnant person’s right to seek a termination.