Oklahoma lawmakers pass abortion bill similar to controversial Texas law

SARAH PHIPPS | AP FILE PHOTOA person holds flags during the Bans Off Oklahoma Rally on the steps on Oklahoma state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April, 5, 2022. The Oklahoma House has given final approval to a Texas-style abortion ban that prohibits abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. 

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma lawmakers have passed so many conflicting laws aimed at curtailing abortion in recent months that no one - not even the lawmakers - knows which is the supreme law of the land, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The lawsuit questions whether a complete abortion ban violates a woman’s liberty under the Oklahoma Constitution because lawmakers are now forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. It also notes that Oklahoma law now forces women to carry “doomed pregnancies for months and suffer the physical and emotional pains of labor and delivery, including the medical risks of labor and delivery, knowing all the while that their child will not survive.”

Filed in the Oklahoma Supreme Court by abortion rights advocates, the lawsuit asks justices to issue an emergency order blocking the state’s abortion bans until the court can determine what laws are actually in effect.

Similar lawsuits attempting to halt abortion bans have been filed by reproductive rights advocates in other states where abortion has been banned following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month that struck down Roe v. Wade and gave states the power to enact their own abortion laws.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs has wreaked havoc on our entire region,” said Tamya Cox-Touré, co-chair, Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, in a statement. “We now turn to our state Supreme Court to uphold our rights. The cost of these total abortion bans falls hardest on people living with low incomes and people of color, many of whom will not be able to take time off work, find childcare, or afford the cost of travel to go to another state for care. Oklahoma is hurting, and we urge the court to act swiftly.”

Plaintiff’s in Oklahoma’s lawsuit include the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, a medical doctor and Planned Parenthood. Named as defendants are several state and county officials, including Attorney General John O’Connor.

Oklahoma’s lawsuit argues that when O’Connor last month certified the legality of an existing abortion ban dating back to 1910, he neglected to require that the enforcement of that law cease on Aug. 27 when a new law criminalizing abortion takes effect. That means Oklahoma will actually have two conflicting laws that criminalize the procedure, the lawsuit contends.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, have passed conflicting laws, one which allows abortions if a woman has been the victim of rape or incest, while others do not. Abortion providers say they’re facing differing standards for identifying threats to a pregnant person’s life or health.

Just this year, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a law that makes providing an abortion a felony, except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency, and increased the century-old penalty for physicians who provide an abortion from five years in prison to 10 and added a fine of up to $100,000.

They also banned abortion at around six months of pregnancy, which took effect May 3. Then in late May, they banned abortions entirely in Oklahoma effective immediately with a civil enforcement mechanism.

Abortion rights advocates said they worry that they may be subject to criminal prosecution for performing an abortion on victims of rape and incest even though those procedures are legal under one recent law, according to the lawsuit.

“State officials are themselves confused by the spate of overlapping laws,” the lawsuit says.

When asked at a recent press conference following the fall of Roe v. Wade about which of the recent abortion laws were actually in effect, O’Connor held a whispered conversation with someone near the podium before saying that all were.

A spokeswoman with O’Connor’s office said Friday that they couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but added, “Our office will defend current laws, and the laws recently passed by the Legislature as we have always done.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office referred comment to O’Connor.

Stitt upheld a campaign promise and has signed every anti-abortion law that crossed his desk.

In late May, Stitt signed the most restrictive abortion law in the country, making Oklahoma the first state to outlaw nearly all abortions. The law, which is already in effect, bans abortions from the moment of fertilization, which is defined as when the sperm fuses with the egg.

The measure expressly allows the use of Plan B and other morning-after pills or any other type of contraception or emergency contraception. Abortions, too, would be permitted to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency or in cases of rape, sexual assault or incest that have been reported to law enforcement.

That measure, House Bill 4327, is currently being challenged in a separate lawsuit, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court hasn’t ruled yet.

Since 2008, the Oklahoma Legislature has enacted over 20 abortion-related laws, “imposing a maze of requirements,” according to the lawsuit.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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