Oklahoma lawmakers weighing response to court's abortion ruling

Sen. Julie Daniels, author of a bill to allow abortion in the event of rape or incest.
Sen. Julie Daniels, author of a bill to allow abortion in the event of rape or incest.

The state Supreme Court's ruling that Oklahoma's constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion to save her own life may have reignited interest among lawmakers to seek additional exceptions.

State Sen. Julie Daniels is the author of Senate Bill 834, which would allow a legal abortion in several circumstances, including when the pregnancy is the result of a rape or incest.

Her bill was eligible for a vote in the Senate for more than a month, but wasn't brought to the floor before a major legislative deadline on Thursday. Because it hasn't yet received a floor hearing, the bill cannot advance in its current form.

"While it was less likely to be heard a few days ago, we're very grateful that we have a vehicle that we can use so that if there's anything we can do to mitigate the damage the Supreme Court did to the unborn child yesterday, we might be able to use that bill and do something with the remainder of the session that we have," said Daniels, R-Bartlesville, when asked about the issue on Wednesday.

But as the deadline on Thursday passed, Senate leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, told reporters that there wasn't enough support inside the Capitol for Senate Bill 834 to advance in time. However, Treat said the language in the bill could be reintroduced in a special procedure that requires his approval and that of Speaker of the House Charles McCall.

The Oklahoma Legislature has until the end of May to finish its business at the Capitol.

Daniels' bill was one of several introduced this year that would walk back Oklahoma's strict anti-abortion laws in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last year essentially overturning Roe v. Wade and leaving the issue of abortion up to the individual states.

A poll issued last year showed a majority of Oklahomans didn't want a total ban on abortion.

Tony Lauinger, one of Oklahoma's most vocal anti-abortion advocates and chair of Oklahomans for Life, distributed a letter to state lawmakers this year warning that if they didn't place abortion exceptions into law, pro-choice groups would end up filing an initiative petition to legalize abortion.

"The reference to an initiative petition was speculation based on what the abortion industry has done elsewhere," Lauinger told The Oklahoman.

Pro-choice advocates have hinted they would consider circulating a petition after Kansas voters rejected a state question that would have led to its own abortion ban. Tamya Cox-Touré, ACLU of Oklahoma director and co-chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said last year that she thinks state voters will still be highly engaged on the issue in 2024.

When reached Wednesday, Cox-Touré said the court's decision didn't go far enough.

We were really hoping that the court would have found there was a right to abortion, full stop," she said.

Several groups in Oklahoma are having "diligent conversations" about the next step, she said, which could include organizing a statewide initiative petition to change the state's current law.

"However, as of right now, no decision has been made," Cox-Touré said.

While Daniels and other anti-abortion lawmakers supported legislation that led to Oklahoma's abortion ban, there seems to be some interest in carving out exceptions that would allow for legal abortions. The exceptions found in Daniels' bill include the following:

  • Terminating a pregnancy that is the result of a rape or sexual assault as long as the crime was reported to law enforcement.

  • Terminating the pregnancy of a minor that is the result of incest as long as the crime was reported to law enforcement.

  • The prescription and use of contraception, but only if it is administered before medical tests confirm pregnancy.

  • In vitro fertilization and fertility treatment.

  • Termination of a pregnancy if the mother faces death or "serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function."

  • Procedures after a miscarriage.

  • Removal of an ectopic pregnancy.

On Wednesday, a day after the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision, Daniels criticized the majority of justices who issued the ruling and suggested they acted more like a Legislature than a court by issuing their opinion.

"While they did somewhat limit this 'created' right to an abortion, they did exactly what the (U.S. Supreme Court) in Roe did. They created a right were none exists," said Daniels.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said that the state constitution creates an inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when it's necessary to preserve her own life.

The ruling generated strong critiques of the court by conservative politicians. Daniels herself criticized the longstanding method of appointing court officers, which involves the governor appointing justices from a list of qualified applicants submitted by the Oklahoma Bar Association.

"It's time for Oklahoma to accomplish judicial reform," Daniels said. "It's very, very important going forward that we realize this is what you get when you do not allow the governor to appoint people to the Supreme Court and not have to work from a list provided by unelected people."

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Lawmakers consider adding more exception to Okahoma's ban on abortions