Apr 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Oklahoma passes another near-total abortion ban

Picture of an abortion rights supporter surrounded by anti-abortion activists.
Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday passed a bill aimed at banning all abortions in the state and would be enforced by lawsuits from private citizens.

Driving the news: The Oklahoma state House on the same day passed another bill which would ban abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. Both measures were inspired by a law in Texas that's recognized as one of the most restrictive in the U.S.

  • The authors of the near-total ban did not respond to Axios' requests for comment on how the two Texas-style laws would coexist.

Why it matters: Oklahoma's near-total ban encourages private citizens to sue anyone suspected of helping a person get an abortion. If signed, it would become the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S.

  • The legislation would take effect as soon as it is signed into law. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) has previously said he'll sign any anti-abortion bill that comes to his desk.

Details: The measure, H.B. 4327, incentivizes citizens to sue anyone who "performs or induces" or "aids of abets the performance" of an abortion. People can also be sued if they "[intend] to engage" in the previous actions but haven't yet done so.

  • Citizens would be awarded at least $10,000 for successfully suing an abortion provider.
  • The bill bars those who are sued from arguing the law is unconstitutional as a defense in court.
  • A person cannot be sued if an abortion was provided "at the behest of federal agencies, contractors, or employees that are carrying out duties under federal law."

Between the lines: Unlike Texas's ban, Oklahoma's includes exceptions for rape and incest if it's reported to the police. It also allows exceptions if the abortion is needed to save a pregnant person's life.

An amendment to the bill stripped state courts’s jurisdiction to consider counter lawsuits against those who sue abortion providers.

  • Senator Julie Daniels (R), who wrote the bill, said the the threat of legal action alone would eliminate clinic abortion access in the state.

The intrigue: Earlier this month, Stitt signed a law that makes it a felony to provide an abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

  • That law is not modeled after Texas's measure, and is not enforced by citizens's lawsuits, unlike the most recent measure passed Thursday.
  • Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor has said the pair of laws would complement each other. He emphasized that laws enforced by private citizens have "not been overturned by the courts."

What they're saying: "In case it wasn’t already clear: anti-abortion lawmakers are hellbent on banning abortion in Oklahoma as much as possible, as soon as possible," said Emily Wales, interim president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, during a demonstration earlier this month.

  • "They have refused to listen to Oklahomans even as we rally at the Capitol building and chanted ‘bans off Oklahoma’ outside their offices. Well, we won’t stop holding them accountable for taking our freedoms."

Zoom out: The U.S. Supreme Court is set to reconsider Roe v. Wade with a decision expected as soon as June.

Don't forget: Oklahoma is one of the 13 states that has a "trigger law" in place, which is an abortion ban that would kick in right away if the Supreme Court completely overturns its precedents.

  • State lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday that would modify the language of the trigger law to ban abortions if the court “overrules in whole or in part” Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

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