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State Senate Panel Approves Bill Allowing Wrongful Death Suits Against Doctors Who Perform Abortions

Matt Trotter

The Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would allow wrongful death lawsuits against doctors who perform abortions.

In an unusual step, Committee Chair Julie Daniels allowed two witnesses brought by Sen. David Bullard to speak in favor of Senate Bill 1728.

Maria Banks said when she had an abortion many years ago, information about the procedure was kept from her and she suffered complications afterward, including bleeding and infertility.

"I want justice for women like myself that are deceived by an industry that supports legalized abortion in this nation. They call it safe and legal. There’s nothing safe about it," Banks said.

Cynthia Carney said after being convinced to have an abortion in 1978, she hemorrhaged — a risk she wasn’t told about.

"There’s this lie out there that it’s the relationship between the woman and the doctor. I never saw my doctor. He had a mask on. I’ve never spoke with him. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve heard say that," Carney said.

Oklahoma law passed in the 2000s requires doctors to provide state-issued information that discourages a patient from having an abortion.

Trust Women founder and CEO Julie Burkhart said she was concerned only witnesses in favor of SB1728 were called to testify and stressed complications from an abortion are rare.

"I was saddened to hear that the two women who came forward to give testimony felt that they weren’t given the care at the time they received it that they deserved. That is not how, overall, that the abortion care world operates, and so that saddened me. There is absolutely no room to ever coerce anyone to do anything, and that is a standard that we live up to and live by," Burkhart said.

SB1728 would allow parents or grandparents to sue a doctor who performs an abortion for wrongful death. Sen. Mary Boren asked how a paternal grandparent might be able to prove standing in such a lawsuit. Bullard said DNA evidence.

"What kind of DNA evidence? From who?" Boren said.

"I think that there would have to be probably some sort of tissue to be able to prove that from the aborted child. So, the evidence on that would be a little more difficult to get in that situation," Bullard said.

Under the bill, doctors would be liable even if a woman were coerced by a third party to have an abortion.

The legislature has also already advanced bills this session to revoke the licenses of doctors who perform an abortion and to effectively ban abortion after six weeks by requiring doctors check for a heartbeat.

This story was updated Feb. 28 with a statement from Julie Burkhart.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.