“They’re all concerned that their election is approaching, and make sure they have something they can put on a postcard to talk about,” said spokesman Andy Fugate, D-Midwest City.
The abortion bill, dubbed the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act, prohibits abortion if the embryo can detect heart activity, which experts say occurs after about six weeks of pregnancy. A similar bill passed in Texas last year led to a sharp reduction in the number of abortions performed in that state, sending many women seeking the procedure to Oklahoma and other surrounding states.
Although Steet had already signed a bill earlier this year to make abortion a felony in Oklahoma, the measure will only take effect later this summer and may not withstand a legal challenge.
Because the measure, approved on Thursday, provides for a “state of emergency,” it takes effect as soon as the governor signs it, and abortion providers say they will immediately stop most abortions in Oklahoma.
A coalition of abortion providers in Oklahoma and abortion rights advocates immediately filed separate lawsuits in state court to challenge both the Texas-style ban and the criminal bill Bill signed earlier this month.
“The Oklahoma Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the state legislature’s extreme attempts to restrict abortion are unconstitutional, and these bans are among the most extreme,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
A separate bill that uses a Texas-style enforcement mechanism to ban all abortions, not just after heart activity is detected, was passed by the Senate on Thursday and is being sent to the House of Representatives. The bills are among more than half a dozen measures against abortion introduced in the legislature this year.
“At this point, we are more concerned about these Texas-style bans because they have, at least recently, been able to continue and stay in place,” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which manages two abortions. clinics in Oklahoma. “We intend to challenge them when they are adopted, but due to the emergency provisions there will be at least a certain period of time when we cannot provide assistance.”
As in Texas, the bill allows private individuals to sue abortion providers or those who help a woman abort up to $ 10,000, a mechanism that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to remain in place. New Texas law has led to a huge increase in the number of women from Texas who want to have an abortion in Oklahoma.
“We now serve as many Texans as we can, and in some cases more Texans than we can,” Wales said.
Before the Texas ban went into effect last year, about 40 Texas women had abortions in Oklahoma each month, according to the Oklahoma Department of Health. That number rose to 222 women in Texas in September and 243 in October, the agency said.
Tony Lowinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life and a longtime advocate for abortion in the state, said he hoped the measure would be recognized as constitutional.
“It’s identical to a bill that was passed by the Texas legislature last year, and that bill was passed in the United States Supreme Court,” Lovinger said. “We hope this bill will save the lives of more unborn children here in Oklahoma as well.”