Days Before Oklahoma Bans Abortion, Details Still Uncertain

The Republican-dominated Oklahoma Legislature approved the abortion ban Thursday

Abortion protest
Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo

Oklahoma is only days away from enacting the toughest U.S. state ban on abortion and providers are preparing to stop terminating pregnancies while questions remained Friday about enforcement of the law's limited exceptions.

The law allows abortions to save a pregnant patient's life “in a medical emergency” and in cases of rape, sexual assault or incest that have been reported to law enforcement. But it doesn't spell out who decides what is considered a medical emergency, and the rape and incest exception won't help victims who don't report the crimes against them to police. State officials didn't immediately have answers to how the life-of-the-mother exception will be applied going forward.

Abortion providers said they are likely to be cautious because the new law, like a ban at about six weeks enacted earlier and a similar 2021 law in Texas, will expose them to potentially expensive lawsuits for alleged violations. They're planning to refer some patients to states like Colorado or Kansas, but some patients won't be able to manage the extra time or travel involved.

Oklahoma will provide a preview of what is in store for other states if the U.S. Supreme Court follows through on a draft opinion leaked earlier this month overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The law also is likely to prompt Oklahoma residents — and Texans who'd gone to the neighboring state — to go elsewhere to end their pregnancies.

“An abortion ban in one state doesn’t stay just in that state,” said Neta Meltzer, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains, which operates two dozen health centers in Colorado and New Mexico. “It absolutely has ripple effects in neighboring states and across the country.”

The Republican-dominated Oklahoma Legislature approved the abortion ban Thursday, and GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt, a strong abortion foe, is expected to sign it once it reaches his desk, probably early next week. The bill contains a clause that says it takes effect as soon as he signs it.

“This bill furthers our efforts to protect the life of the unborn and to stop those who participate in their deaths,” said state Rep. Sean Roberts, a Republican from a small northeast Oklahoma town. “The sanctity of life is our most precious gift."

If the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade takes effect, it could also lead to tighter state restrictions on birth control, says Seema Mohapatra, law professor at Southern Methodist University.

The two Planned Parenthood clinics in Oklahoma, in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, suspended paused abortions services after Stitt signed the six-week ban earlier this month. A clinic run by the abortion-rights group Trust Women in Oklahoma City is providing abortion services up until Stitt signs the new law.

Abortion rights advocates hope to challenge the new law in state courts, despite a provision saying that no court has the authority to issue an order blocking the law temporarily in response to such a challenge.

Hanna reported from Topeka, Kansas.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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