Oklahoma banned nearly all abortions after Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill banning the conception procedure and allowing private citizens to sue people who help women terminate pregnancies.
Stitt signed the bill Wednesday night that immediately bans abortions from the moment of fertilization. The governor’s signing follows a wave of laws enacted in Republican-led states restricting abortion in recent years in hopes of successfully challenging long-standing legal precedent.
Oklahoma is now the first state to ban abortion since the Supreme Court’s landmark but imperiled 1973 decision Roe vs. Wade decision. Stitt said he was carrying out the will of his constituents, as reproductive rights advocates reacted in horror.
“What is happening in Oklahoma, Texas and across the country is a cruel assault on our individual freedoms and bodily autonomy,” the ACLU said in a tweet. “Abortion is essential. Abortion is a healthcare system. We all deserve to have access to it, no matter what politicians say.”
House Bill 4327 includes exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest that have been reported to law enforcement. It also allows for life-saving abortions, ectopic pregnancies, and removal of an unborn child. Also, the bill does not prohibit the use of emergency contraception, such as Plan B.
“We believe life begins at conception and we’re going to protect life in Oklahoma,” Stitt said during a Fox News appearance on Sunday earlier this month. “You know, there were 5,000 – in Oklahoma alone – unborn children who were killed last year. … Other states might do it differently, but we’re going to save him for life in Oklahoma State.”
The legislation means Oklahoma’s five abortion providers can no longer operate, Elizabeth Nash, a state reproductive health policy researcher at Guttmacher Institute, wrote on Twitter. She said that in 2017, 4,780 abortions were obtained in the state. Currently, there are 890,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49, she said.
Nash said after Texas banned six-week abortions in September, patients began traveling to neighboring Oklahoma for the procedure as well as to states on the east and west coasts. Oklahoma’s new law means “limited access and delayed access to care everywhere and for everyone,” Nash said.
“Oklahoma and Texas are just the tip of the iceberg,” Nash said. “We estimate that 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion if the right to abortion is overturned. And the Supreme Court is set to overturn #RoeVWade in the next weeks.”
Earlier this month, a leaked opinion from the Supreme Court showed the court was ready to overturn deer, leaving states free to pass laws restricting abortion. Many Republican-led states have adopted restrictions as the court has become more conservative in recent years.
Similar to Texas’ new abortion law, Oklahoma will rely on private citizens to enforce the new restrictions. Oklahoma law allows citizens to sue people who help women get abortions, awarding them up to $10,000 in court. The new law does not allow women themselves to be prosecuted for seeking abortions.
Newsweek has contacted Stitt for comment.