Updated May 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Oklahoma passes near-total abortion ban starting at fertilization

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 beginning at fertilization and would be enforced by lawsuits from private citizens, and it is now headed to the governor's desk.

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 will be 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."

The big picture: There is already a six-week ban in effect in the state that Stitt signed into law in late April. Both that measure and H.B. 4327 were inspired by a law in Texas that's currently recognized as one of the most restrictive in the U.S.

Between the lines: Unlike Texas's ban, Oklahoma does include 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.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the bill "the most extreme effort to undo" abortion rights in the U.S.

  • "This is part of a growing effort by ultra MAGA officials across the country to roll back the freedoms we should not take for granted in this country. They are starting with reproductive rights, but the American people need to know that other fundamental rights, including the right to contraception and marriage equality, are at risk," Jean-Pierre said.

Catch up fast: The Oklahoma House initially voted on the bill in late April after the state Senate also advanced it. However, lawmakers added an amendment to the law that required it to be re-considered by both chambers before it was sent to the governor's desk.

  • An amendment that was added to the bill stripped state courts' jurisdiction to consider counter lawsuits against those who sue abortion providers.

The intrigue: In mid-April, Stitt signed a law, S.B. 612, 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' lawsuits, unlike the most recent measure passed Thursday.
  • Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor has said that the state's bans will complement each other. He emphasized that laws enforced by private citizens have "not been overturned by the courts."

What they're saying: "The Oklahoma legislature is extraordinarily sloppy" as it has "repeatedly" enacted "overlapping laws in an insane way that makes no sense. There is no aspect of what's happening with these abortion bans in Oklahoma that is normal," said Rabia Muqaddam, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

  • "There is no rhyme or reason [for the state to have passed three abortion bans] other than a radical attack to just confuse people, create chaos and wreak as much havoc as they can possibly do on people who are seeking abortion" she added.
  • Muqaddam said that she does not know how H.B. 4327 and S.B. 612 would co-exist because no other state has ever taken similar action.
  • "The President believes that women have the fundamental right to make their own reproductive health choices," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday in a statement.
  • "Today’s action by the Oklahoma legislature is the most extreme effort to undo these fundamental rights we have seen to date," Jean-Pierre added. "In addition, it adopts Texas’ absurd plan to allow private citizens to sue their neighbors for providing reproductive health care and helping women to exercise their constitutional rights."

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 will kick in right away if the Supreme Court completely overturns its precedents.

What we're watching: The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a lawsuit to stop the state's six-week ban — which has not been blocked — and now plans to make a request to supplement that case with a challenge to H.B. 4327.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

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