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After enacting strict abortion bans, Oklahoma GOP lawmakers seek more restrictions

Bills address abortion pills, civil lawsuits and helping minors seek the procedure

By Carmen Forman, Oklahoma Voice - February 02, 2024
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Nearly two years after Republican lawmakers banned most abortions, they’ve filed a slate of legislation to further restrict access to the procedure.

GOP lawmakers filed bills this year to crack down on access to abortion-inducing pills, punish people who help minors obtain abortions and allow for civil lawsuits against doctors who perform the procedure in violation of state law.

There also are at least two bills that would allow women who undergo the procedure to be prosecuted, but similar legislation has previously failed to get traction in the GOP-led Oklahoma Legislature.

Lawmakers largely avoided addressing abortion issues last year even though some Republicans sought carve-outs to Oklahoma’s strict law that bans the procedure except to save the life of the mother. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma is tracking about 15 pieces of anti-abortion legislation that were filed this year or carried over from last year’s legislative session, said Executive Director Tamya Cox-Touré. She’s also the co-chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice.

Cox-Touré said the group is focused on opposing legislation seeking to establish that “personhood” begins at conception and bills that would prevent access to abortion pills. In a medication abortion, a doctor will prescribe a two-drug regimen to terminate a pregnancy within the first 10 weeks.

Election year politics, successful abortion-rights ballot initiatives in other states and U.S. Supreme Court actions are likely driving the wave of anti-abortion legislation, she said.

“Abortion-rights activists across the state are taking strong strides to ensure that we are educating people that even with abortion being banned, these bills are still very harmful, and we have to fight against them,” Cox-Touré said.

Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, and Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont, filed House Bill 3013. It makes it felony to deliver, possess or advertise abortion pills to someone who intends to use them to perform an illegal abortion. Under the bill, anyone charged with “trafficking” the pills would face 10 years in prison or $100,000 in fines.

Olsen said he believes more women are ordering abortion pills on the internet since lawmakers enacted a near-total ban on the procedure. According to state health data, no abortions were reported in 2022 after Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the first ban into law.

Oklahoma’s clinics stopped performing surgical abortions and prescribing abortion pills when that ban took effect.

“The (abortion) clinics are closed, which is a huge thing,” Olsen said. “But medical mail order has exploded, and so we have to make an attempt to address that.”

Olsen said he’s hopeful the legislation would deter some companies and organizations from sending abortion pills to Oklahoma.

The bill classifies misoprostol and methotrexate as abortion-inducing drugs. The former can also be used to treat stomach ulcers while the latter is a drug that is commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and some forms of cancer. The legislation will not interfere with a person using those medications for routine medical purposes, Olsen said.

Cox-Touré said the bill is “extreme” because anyone in possession of the pills could be charged with trafficking.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case this spring regarding access to mifepristone, a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication used for abortions and medical treatment following a miscarriage.

Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, also filed several bills to limit abortions.

Among those are a measure that would allow prosecutors to charge someone with first-degree murder for advising a woman to take anything to induce an illegal abortion. Dahm, who did not respond to a call seeking comment, also filed a bill to penalize anyone who helps a pregnant minor obtain an abortion without parental consent.

Cox-Touré said the latter bill essentially prohibits minors from traveling outside the state to get an abortion. Thousands of women have traveled to Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado for abortions since 2022.

Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, filed a bill that would allow the state to revoke the medical license of a physician who helps cause an illegal abortion. House Bill 3216 also could prohibit the use of emergency contraception, also known as the “morning after” pill, that would “prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.”

West also wants to allow civil lawsuits against those who help a woman obtain an illegal abortion.

Ruling the Oklahoma Constitution includes an “inherent right” for a woman to terminate her pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life, the state Supreme Court struck down state laws that included civil-enforcement mechanisms.

West said it’s not uncommon for the Legislature to craft new policy based on Supreme Court rulings. He said his bill is an attempt to reinstate previous anti-abortion laws while also respecting the court’s decisions.

“It’s an effort to maintain what we had on the books and utilize their language to try to satisfy them in future rulings,” West said.

This story was originally published in the Oklahoma Voice


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