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Republicans On Senate Committee Advance New Abortion Restrictions In 1st Meeting

Matt Trotter

Further limiting access to abortion appears to be a top priority among Oklahoma Republican lawmakers.

Six out of 16 bills considered by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee during its first meeting Wednesday sought to make abortions harder to get. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat reintroduced Senate Bill 918, which would install into state law triggers for the repeal of virtually all of Oklahoma’s abortion regulations.

"In the event that Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Roe v. Wade is overturned, our attorney general could certify that and it would make valid again our prohibition that’s currently in statute that makes it a felony to perform abortion," Treat told the committee.

The state law repealer would also be triggered if the U.S. Constitution is amended in a way allowing the state to ban abortion.

Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) brought two bills dealing with medication abortions. Senate Bill 778 would require doctors to follow specific procedures, and Senate Bill 779 would direct the state pharmacy board to set up a program certifying who can provide or receive drugs.

"And yes, increasing the responsibility of government at the state level to oversee the use of these dangerous drugs, because we can no longer count on the FDA and their current risk eval and mitigation strategies which are currently in place to protect women," Daniels said.

The Food and Drug Administration is not currently taking any public action related to Daniels' concerns. Under the Trump administration, the agency implemented a rule that pregnant people must receive drugs for a medication abortion at a clinic. The Supreme Court sided with the administration in January.

Roughly half of abortions in the state are performed with medication. The state already requires medication be prescribed only in person by a licensed physician.

The committee also considered Senate Bill 612, by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow). It would limit abortion to cases where it's necessary to save the life of a woman during a medical emergency.

"These types of bills are not new to Oklahoma; however, we were really hoping in the middle of a pandemic the Oklahoma legislature would focus on very real and important issues that actually help move Oklahoma further, that actually help provide access to more health care for Oklahomans," said Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice Co-Chair Tamya Cox-Touré.

SB918 passed 8–3, while SB778, 779 and 612 passed 7–3. Democratic committee members Sens. Jo Anna Dossett, Carri Hicks and George Young were the votes against each one. Treat was allowed to vote on his own legislation.

The bills are now eligible to be heard on the Senate floor.

Another Dahm Bill, Senate Bill 584, originally sought to block any public funding from going to Planned Parenthood. There is existing state law on that matter. Dahm amended the bill to instead block public funding from going to any health care provider or its affiliate found by a court to be violating federal law on trafficking fetal body parts. 

Responding to a question from Hicks, Dahm said health care providers are not trafficking fetal body parts in Oklahoma. The committee passed the measure 7–3, with all Democrats opposed.

The only measure to fail Wednesday was Senate Bill 495, which would ban abortion outright by granting full legal protection to fetuses and repealing all state abortion regulations. The Oklahoma Republican Party supported the bill, the first one freshman Sen. Warren Hamilton  (R-McCurtain) presented. He exaggerated claims that abortions lead women to have mental health and fertility issues.

"We are trying to prevent people from making a mistake. And, in fact, in so doing in saving an innocent life we’re also trying to help mothers not make the mistakes that are going to carry them down a path of a lifetime of regret," Hamilton said.

The committee voted unanimously against SB495. Abortion abolitionists at the capitol for the hearing on it heckled Chair Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada) and other committee members as they left the meeting.

Cox-Touré said the outright ban failing was not consolation.

"Any attempt to erode access and to create obstacles is an attempt to ban abortion. And to be completely upfront is that, that is the whim of this legislature, is to find ways to make abortion access unavailable," Cox-Touré said.

Last session, the state enacted a law exposing doctors who perform abortions to wrongful death lawsuits. The legislature was on pace to pass several bills restricting abortion before the session was derailed by the pandemic.

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