The Oklahoma legislature on Thursday approved two bills that would ban virtually all abortions, and both Republican-composed laws would take effect immediately if the governor signs them as he has promised.
Oklahoma would become the most restrictive US state for abortions under the bill passed by the state Senate to ban them except in cases of medical emergency, rape or incest. Earlier, the state’s House of Representatives approved a separate piece of legislation to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The Senate also had previously approved that measure.
“The goal of this bill is to protect unborn children, and therefore we are telling everyone that abortion is prohibited except in limited circumstances,” Senator Julie Daniels, a Republican, said of the near-total ban.
Governor Kevin Stitt, also a Republican, has said he will sign any anti-abortion legislation that reaches his desk.
Should the near-total ban be enacted, it would be the only one of its kind to go into effect in the United States since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court established abortion rights nationwide, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group.
Republican-led states have been passing ever-stricter abortion bans, expecting a forthcoming Supreme Court decision will alter or reverse Roe v. Wade.
The Supreme Court is due to rule by the end of June on a case involving a Republican-backed Mississippi abortion law. During oral arguments, conservative justices signalled a willingness to dramatically curtail abortion rights.
Oklahoma’s four abortion clinics had been bracing for Thursday’s legislative action, which could mean they must soon cease abortion services entirely.
Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights advocacy groups filed two lawsuits in Oklahoma courts on Thursday, seeking to block enforcement of the new six-week ban as well as a near-total ban passed earlier this month that threatens prison for providers.
Dr. Shelly Tien said she knew the surgical and medication abortions she provided at the Trust Women clinic in Oklahoma City earlier this week could be her last in the state. Tien travels monthly from Florida to work at the clinic.
“It makes me very sad that I won’t be able to go back there and provide care for those patients,” she said.
More than half her patients this week were from Texas, she said. Oklahoma had become a destination for women from Texas looking to end their pregnancies after their home state’s six-week ban took effect last fall.
In recent weeks, Trust Women has been scheduling more patients for abortions at its sister clinic in Wichita, Kansas, about two hours away driving, spokesperson Zack Gingrich-Gaylord said.
The Wichita clinic has brought on about a half dozen new abortion doctors, is hiring support staff and also is adding more days that abortions are provided to prepare for an uptick in patients from Oklahoma, he said. Abortion is legal in Kansas up to 22 weeks in pregnancy.
Gingrich-Gaylord said the Oklahoma City clinic has some medication abortion appointments scheduled for next week, but those are contingent on when the governor signs the ban.
The House must first approve amendments to the near-total ban before it goes to the governor.