OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma lawmakers on Tuesday sent legislation to the governor that bans abortion by criminalizing the procedure except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency.
Critics of Senate Bill 612 said the measure criminalizes a constitutionally protected procedure by making it a felony to perform an abortion. Providers convicted of violating the statute could face up to a decade behind bars.
Still Senate Bill 612 passed swiftly and overwhelmingly through the state House with no debate. Gov. Kevin Stitt has previously vowed to sign any anti-abortion legislation advanced by lawmakers. The bill would cost taxpayers $26,615.80 per year — the estimated cost to lock up an abortion provider, according to a legislative fiscal analysis of the measure.
“It’s a very strong, widely sweeping abortion bill,” said state Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, who authored the measure. “As long as it withstands court challenges, it does so much to protect innocent unborn lives from the moment of conception.”
He described it as Oklahoma’s strongest anti-abortion legislation sent to the governor to date.
But Olsen said whether the measure can legally take effect hinges on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected later this year. He said he hopes that the nation’s highest court gives states the power to regulate abortion access.
The House also advanced a separate resolution, also filed by Olsen, that creates the “Day of Tears.” It urges Oklahomans to fly flags at half-staff on Jan. 22, 2022, to mourn the over 61 million “innocent, preborn children who have lost their lives due to abortion” since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion access on Jan. 22, 1973. Olsen said that was more of a symbolic vote.
Both votes came as over 100 abortion rights supporters rallied outside the state Capitol, urging lawmakers to stop advancing more than half a dozen measures that they said would curtail abortion access in Oklahoma. Protesters carried signs that read “Bans off our Bodies,” and chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, patriarchy has to go.”
Olsen said the timing of the vote was coincidental and that he wasn’t aware abortion rights groups were rallying outside the Capitol until after the vote on his bill.
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said Republicans were trying to take attention away from the pro-abortion rally by suddenly running a year-old piece of legislation.
“That’s why we didn’t give the bill a whole lot of attention,” she said. “We didn’t question or debate it. We wanted our focus to be on the folks who traveled here today.”
In a statement, Faith Elwonger, Oklahoma regional coordinator for Students for Life of America, said the group was celebrating the passage of the legislation.
The group also said “Oklahoma’s Life at Conception Bill” was the second bill of its kind to advance through a legislature. Last year, Arkansas’ governor signed a similar measure.
“I am so proud of Oklahoma for taking this bold step and helping to lead the way for the post-Roe America,” Elwonger said in a statement. “From conception is the new status quo.”
Tamya Cox-Toure, executive director of the ACLU Oklahoma and chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said the measure is unconstitutional, and that Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion access, remains the law of the land despite attempts to ban access.
“I think it’s really important to know this was about political gymnastics, not about policy or ways to move up or forward,” she said. “We believe that this bill was only heard because we were here today saying with one voice that we demand and we must protect abortion access in Oklahoma.”
Cox-Toure said she feels confident that if and when the bill is challenged, it will be struck down as unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said lawmakers intend to completely restrict access to abortion care with one narrow exception, but said the law, even if it’s blocked by the courts, is also designed to send “a great deal of shame and stigma and fear.”
She also said the timing of Tuesday’s vote wasn’t happenstance.
“I think the Legislature has done what it’s done throughout this session, which is focus on politics and their next campaign, over what their people need,” she said. “And so we’re here gathering, sending a message to the Legislature, and they responded by trampling on people’s rights. I think it says a lot.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.