Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a near-total abortion ban and two other abortion restrictions into law on Monday, sending a sweeping message that the state-level fight over access to the procedure is far from over.
The Sooner State became the second state this year to enact a so-called heartbeat ban – a law barring most abortions at the onset of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and before many people know they are pregnant.
“I’m keeping my promise to sign all pro-life legislation,” Stitt tweeted with photos of the bill signing. “We now have three more laws protecting the lives of the unborn! HB 2441, HB 1904, and HB 1102.”
The bill comes as both sides of the abortion debate double down in the clash over access to the procedure. Republican-controlled states have advanced a wave of anti-abortion bills this year consistent with the trend under the Trump presidency, while the Biden administration has sought to expand abortion protections, namely by reversing Trump-era restrictions.
Oklahoma’s HB 1102 would effectively ban abortions outside of medical emergencies by threatening medical providers with losing their medical licenses for at least a year if they perform an abortion. It makes an exception “for an abortion necessary to prevent the death of the mother or to prevent substantial or irreversible physical impairment of the mother that substantially increases the risk of death,” but not for instances of rape or incest.
HB 2441, the heartbeat bill, would require ultrasound checks for a fetal heartbeat and would ban abortions if one is detected. It makes exceptions if there is a “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” to the pregnant person, but not for instances of rape or incest.
Lastly, HB 1904 would require abortion providers to be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology, a move that critics say is unnecessary as some abortions earlier in pregnancy can be performed by administering pills.
The three bills – all slated to go into effect on November 1 – may soon face legal challenges in light of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at around 24 weeks of pregnancy. Of the 12 so-called gestational bans – which bar abortions past a certain point in pregnancy – passed since the start of 2019, none have gone into effect after most of them have been blocked by judges.
Gloria Pedro, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes regional manager of public policy and organizing for Arkansas and Oklahoma, said of a heartbeat bill potentially blocking abortions before people know they’re pregnant: “Aside from being unconstitutional, it’s incredibly unfair and patronizing to women.”
“We’ve seen bans like this fail time and time again, so it’s a real waste of taxpayers’ money and it just shows that the Legislature has their priorities wrong in the middle of a pandemic,” Pedro told CNN before the bills were signed. “When they should be working on expanding health care for Oklahomans, they are trying to deny health care and it’s just cruel and unnecessary.”
Oklahoma state Sen. Julie Daniels, who co-sponsored the near-total ban and the heartbeat ban, told CNN before the bills were signed that she was undeterred by similar prior laws being blocked by the courts.
“You do not stop working to protect life just because you have, you know, a high hill to climb to get the bill to go into effect, and this is a very real way of saving life,” she continued. “And so we continue to chip away at it in hopes that one day, there will be a different decision at the US Supreme Court level and that this issue, which rightly and properly belongs with the states and not the federal government, will once again be returned to the states.”
Asked about the lack of exceptions for rape or incest, Daniels said that in such scenarios, “you have the woman who was raped, and I believe incest is the same as rape, and you have the baby. So why have two victims? Why not have one victim? The child and the woman were both innocent, but why end up with two innocent victims by killing the child?”
Oklahoma joins a host of Republican-controlled states seeking to restrict abortion in recent months. In February, a federal judge temporarily blocked a South Carolina law prohibiting an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected during an ultrasound, with few exceptions.
And in March, the Arkansas state House and Senate moved to make it the first state to enact a near-total abortion ban in 2021. According to Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored the Senate bill, the law is slated to go into effect 91 days after the end of the Arkansas legislative session, which is currently set for later this spring.
The Biden administration has previously moved to support abortion rights across a slew of different policies. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration removed during the Covid-19 pandemic a requirement that one of the drugs involved in medication abortion be dispensed in person, and the Health and Human Services Department moved to reverse a Trump-era rule barring certain federally funded health care providers from referring patients for abortions, a step long demanded by abortion rights groups.
In a January memorandum, Biden fulfilled a campaign promise to rescind the so-called Mexico City Policy, a ban on US government funding for foreign nonprofits that perform or promote abortions.