OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) — The Republican-controlled Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a ban on abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, legislation that mirrors a controversial abortion ban passed in Texas last year.
Senate Bill 1503 – known as the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act – passed 68-12 in the House with no debate, after being approved by the state Senate last month. Republican Governor Kevin Stitt is expected to quickly sign the bill, as he has vowed to sign any anti-abortion bill that reaches his desk.
SB 1503 bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected in a fetus, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. Critics say this is often before a woman is aware she is pregnant.
Oklahoma’s ban is inspired by the passage of Senate Bill 8 – the Texas Heartbeat Act – last year by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature. Like in Texas, Oklahoma’s ban includes a provision giving private citizens the power to enforce the ban, allowing them to sue anyone who “performed or induced” an abortion for over $10,000 per violation.
SB 1503 also allows citizens to sue for additional damages if they suffer harm including “loss of consortium and emotional distress,” opening the door for aggrieved fathers to sue a partner seeking an abortion within a six-year statute of limitations.
The Oklahoma House approved the bill with emergency provisions in place, meaning it will go into effect immediately after Stitt signs it. This creates a problem for the large numbers of women from Texas who have traveled to Oklahoma for an abortion after SB 8 was passed last year.
Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said the group will challenge Oklahoma’s ban and noted the immediate effect of a signed law would prevent them from offering abortion services for some time at their two Oklahoma clinics.
“We are more concerned at this point about these Texas-style bans because they have, at least recently, been able to continue and remain in effect,” Wales said. “We’re serving as many Texans as Oklahomans right now, in some cases more Texans than Oklahomans.”
SB 1503’s passage comes weeks after Stitt signed into law SB 612, a law that bans abortions “except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.” Doctors face a felony punishable up to 10 years in state prison and up to $100,000 in fines.
The latest bill also comes two days after Stitt signed a first-of-its-kind ban on nonbinary gender markers being placed on Oklahoma birth certificates. That ban was proposed following Republican outcry to a 2021 civil settlement in a case where an Oklahoma-born Oregon resident sued the state after a request for a nonbinary birth certificate was refused.
Thursday’s vote come six months after Oklahoma County District Judge Cindy Truong blocked House Bill 1102, another near-total ban on abortion. That measure declared abortion doctors are engaging in “unprofessional conduct” and would face a suspension of their medical license for at least one year.
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