Oklahoma Republican-led legislature passes nation’s strictest abortion ban

Oklahoma’s Republican-led legislature passed the nation’s strictest abortion ban on Thursday. The bill, if signed into law, would allows citizens to sue anyone, anywhere who “aids or abets” a patient in terminating a pregnancy.

The bill bans abortion from conception, even before an egg implants in the uterus, and would go into effect immediately if signed by Republican governor, Kevin Stitt. Abortion providers expect he will do so before the coming week.

Like a six-week abortion ban in Texas, Oklahoma’s bill would be enforced by citizens. It would allow anyone, anywhere to sue for $10,000 and “emotional distress”, even if they do not have a relationship to the patient in question.

Oklahoma’s bill, “is not one more ban, it is not another ban – it is a first,” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which serves patients in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. The law, “encourages bounty hunters to sue their neighbors”, and is a “reversal of history happening before our eyes”.

The bill is part of an aggressive push in Republican-led states across the country to scale back abortion rights.

“It’s outrageous, and it’s just the latest in a series of extreme laws from around the country,” Vice-President Kamala Harris said in reaction to the law. She said the new bans were designed to “punish and control women”.

It comes on the heels of an unprecedented leaked draft opinion from the supreme court, which suggested a majority of conservative justices support a total reversal of Roe v Wade. The landmark decision legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago and invalidated dozens of state abortion bans.

A final ruling in a key case from Mississippi, called Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is expected next month.

If the final decision does not change substantially from the leaked draft, the court would in effect return the issue of legal abortion to the states. At least 26 states would be certain or likely to ban abortion. The leaked opinion sparked uproar from Americans who support abortion access, a roughly two-thirds majority according to polls, and human rights leaders.

The Oklahoma bill promoted by Collinsville Republican representative Wendi Stearman would prohibit all abortions in the state, except to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest that has been reported to law enforcement.

“Is our goal to defend the right to life or isn’t it?” Stearman asked her colleagues before the bill passed on a 73-16 vote mostly along party lines. At least one lawmaker suggested the bill did not go far enough, and suggested also banning treatment for ectopic pregnancies, a life-threatening medical condition in which an embryo implants inside the fallopian tubes. An ectopic pregnancy is never viable.

“These people have no idea what they’re talking about, and they are making laws controlling our medical practice and people’s basic rights,” said Dr Iman Alsaden, medical director of Planned Parenthood Great Plains.

The bill is one of at least three abortion bans sent to Stitt this year. The other laws include a six-week abortion ban and a criminal abortion ban, though the way the laws will interact is not yet known. The criminal abortion ban, set to take effect this summer if Roe falls, would make it a felony to perform an abortion punishable by up to 10 years in prison, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

The lead attorney on challenges to Oklahoma’s various abortion bans, Rabia Muqaddam from the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the legislature “extraordinarily sloppy”.

“My understanding is the most restrictive law that takes effect latest controls, but it is extraordinarily bizarre,” said Muqaddam. “We’re challenging everything as it comes.”

The laws passed by Oklahoma also have an outsized effect on women in Texas, the state which pioneered civil enforcement of abortion bans. Oklahoma was briefly a haven state for Texan patients, after the supreme court allowed Texas to ban abortion at six weeks in 2021 September.

“At this point, we are preparing for the most restrictive environment politicians can create: a complete ban on abortion with likely no exceptions,” said Wales. “It’s the worst-case scenario for abortion care in the state of Oklahoma,” she added.

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