Oklahoma has banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, a prohibition that went into effect immediately on Tuesday after Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the Texas-style bill into law.
Abortion providers and advocates tried immediately to stop the law from going into effect, filing suit and asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stop the law from being implemented until the suit was resolved. The same tactic had stopped another anti-abortion bill from becoming law in April. This time, hours after Stitt signed the bill into law, the state’s Supreme Court denied the motion, putting the law into place.
The ban comes the day after a draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito was obtained by Politico, showing that a conservative majority on the US Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 49-year-old decision that recognized a constitutional right to abortion.
Introduced in January of this year, SB 1503 is one in a series of bills being weighed and approved in conservative-leaning legislatures across the country, making significant restrictions on the access and legality of abortions. Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s 2016 election and the appointment of conservative justices to the Supreme Court, anti-abortion activists have increased efforts across the country to restrict abortions and successfully brought the question of their constitutionality back before the US Supreme Court.
Though courts have blocked a number of restrictive laws pending a Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights, the 6-week ban in Texas was allowed to go into effect because it left enforcement in the hands of private citizens, who could file potentially lucrative lawsuits against anyone performing or assisting in an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected. Idaho has since passed a six-week ban with a similar enforcement mechanism, which was temporarily blocked by the Idaho Supreme Court pending a lawsuit. Oklahoma on Tuesday joined them, and as of Tuesday evening, the Oklahoma Supreme Court hadn’t taken action on legal challenges to it.
“I want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country because I represent all four million Oklahomans who overwhelmingly want to protect the unborn,” Gov. Kevin Stitt wrote on Twitter, announcing his decision to sign the bill.
The signing of the law in Oklahoma on Tuesday came as people protested outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, following the leak of the draft opinion, with barricades separating anti-abortion activists and abortion rights supporters.
Protesters were joined by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, who decried the possibility of the court overturning the landmark decision.
“Never in our lifetime have we seen a right that was in place for 50 years suddenly, with a court that’s been stacked with conservatives, that is not consistent with the American people are, we suddenly seen them basically flip it on its head, change 50 years of precedent, after they themselves in their confirmation hearing said that it was the ‘law of the land,'” Klobuchar said outside the court.
Even before Stitt signed the Oklahoma bill into law Tuesday, abortion providers and advocates had filed legal challenges hoping to stop it from going into effect.
“The Oklahoma Supreme Court has repeatedly found that the state legislature’s extreme attempts to restrict abortion are unconstitutional, and these bans are some of the most extreme yet,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproduction Rights, said in a statement. “We are asking the state courts to uphold the State Constitution and apply Oklahoma precedent to block these insidious abortion bans.”
A six-week ban in Oklahoma would have particularly devastating effects since the state has become a destination for Texas residents needing abortion after six weeks, Northup said. That’s before many people even realize they’re pregnant.
“For seven months, Oklahoma abortion providers have taken in patients forced to leave Texas for essential care,” Alex McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a written statement announcing challenges to the Oklahoma law. “The governor may joke about stopping people from crossing the Oklahoma border for abortion, but this is no laughing matter. Unless these bans are blocked, patients will be turned away, people seeking abortion will be unable to access essential care in their own communities.”
Another recently passed Oklahoma law will make performing an abortion a felony punishable by prison and up to a $100,000 fine. That law is set to take effect this summer if it’s not blocked by the courts.