Oklahoma votes to make abortion illegal with punishment of up to 10 years in jail

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The Oklahoma state House voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill making it a felony to perform an abortion in the state punishable by up to 10 years in jail, in what is possibly the most restrictive anti-abortion bills passed since the US Supreme Court first signaled its willingness to curtail reproductive rights last year.

The legislation, which would punish any Oklahoman who performs an abortion with a lengthy jail sentence and a fine of up to $100,000, passed the state Senate last year before sailing through the state House by a margin of 70-14 on Tuesday.

Governor Kevin Stitt is expected to sign the bill. Under the legislation, the only circumstance in which someone in Oklahoma can perform an abortion is to save the life of the mother.

“Oklahoma had the opportunity to lead the way in protecting access in the region instead of doubling down on cruel and harmful legislation. These restrictions are rooted in white supremacy, patriarchy, and bigotry,” Priya Desai of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice said. “The harm from this legislation will fall the hardest on communities already facing the greatest challenges in our health care system including people of color, immigrants, trans and nonbinary people, rural people, and young people.”

The bill will likely serve as another test of the Supreme Court’s willingness to overturn the Roe v Wade ruling that made abortion legal across the United States in 1973. While states like Texas have banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, this bill would ban abortion in almost all cases from the moment of conception.

Anti-abortion activists have reason to believe that Roe v Wade is under imminent threat. The Supreme Court’s six-justice conservative majority responded favorably in oral arguments to a Mississippi law that bans abortions after fifteen weeks, and has declined multiple times to intervene to stop the Texas law, which was passed last fall and has resulted in an 800 per cent increase in demand for services at Planned Parenthood locations in neighboring Oklahoma.

Soon, Texans unable to access reproductive healthcare in their home state likely won’t be able to travel north to Oklahoma for it either.

The Oklahoma state legislature has moved aggressively to introduce and pass a slew of anti-reproductive healthcare bills this year which would not only eliminate access to abortions, but also allow private citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets in the provision” of an illegal abortion for up to $10,000 in damages. The state House has also adopted a resolution to recognise lives lost due to abortion and urge citizens to fly flags at half-mast on the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision.

Tamya Cox-Touré, executive director, ACLU of Oklahoma, said that the bills passed in Oklahoma are “an alarming reminder that the days of access to safe and legal abortion may be numbered.”

This year alone, nearly 40 states have introduced more than 200 bills to restrict access to abortion. People in certain parts of the country, including the Great Plains and the South, are facing the possibility of being stuck in regions where very few or no states will allow abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

But despite the bleak landscape, reproductive rights advocates — including the 100-plus who demonstrated on Tuesday at the state capitol in Oklahoma City — are vowing to fight on.

“There are difficult times ahead, and we’ve been through so much already,” Rebecca Tong, Co-Executive Director of Trust Women, said. “No Oklahoman deserves the type of disconnected and cruel representation that is happening behind the closed doors of the state capitol. But we believe in the power of the people, and we believe in the ability of Oklahomans to rein in this disastrous legislation.”