Senate Passes Abortion Measures Including Felony Charge For Doctors, Heartbeat Bill

Mar 10, 2021

Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tuesday it was the state House, Wednesday it was the Senate passing a slate of bills to effectively ban abortion in Oklahoma.

Senate Bill 612 by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) is almost identical to a near-total ban signed into law in Arkansas on Tuesday. Under the bill, doctors who perform an abortion for a reason other than saving a woman’s life during a medical emergency would be guilty of a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. There is no exception for rape or incest, a provision largely absent from abortion legislation this session.

“In those situations, you have one victim, and you have the possibility that a baby could become the second victim,” Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) said during debate on SB612.

“If I were to hold up a picture of two babies in the womb, you couldn’t tell me which one was conceived in rape,” Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant) said, following Daniels in debate.

Their comments spurred Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd to rise for debate a second time, reminding her colleagues a rape survivor recently testified to them the trauma would stay with her for a lifetime.

“They have rights, too. Survivors have rights, too. Let’s put an exception in this bill. Let’s put an exception for rape and incest, and I’ll vote for it. It’ll be the only abortion bill I probably will ever vote for, but if you give survivors their rights, I’ll vote for this bill,” Floyd said.

No one added an exception.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 723, which would ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is audible and requiring doctors check for one starting at six weeks of pregnancy. Sen. Jo Anna Dossett (D-Tulsa) asked the author, Dahm if he was aware the only way to detect a heartbeat that early was a transvaginal ultrasound — he thought there are other methods — if he could describe the procedure — he declined — and if he knew anyone who’d had one — he did not.

“Why are we voting on legislation that the author clearly knows very little about and has not done much research on?” Dossett said.

Two bills the Senate passed try new tactics. Daniels authored bills aimed at drugs used for medication abortion. Senate Bill 778 appears to be an attempt to get ahead of any federal rule changes that might allow medications to be mailed like other prescriptions. Senate Bill 779 would create a special certification program doctors must go through to administer drugs. Dossett asked Daniels about the program and its required data reporting, including patient demographics and medication used.

“If my doctor is prescribing these drugs, why would my doctor need to be tracked?” Dossett said.

“These are dangerous drugs that can cause complications. They’ve been regulated at the federal level. We’re now putting in a framework so that we can monitor them at the state level just to make sure that they’re — safeguard women’s health who use these drugs,” Daniels said.

ACLU Oklahoma Executive Director and Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice Co-Chair Tamya Cox-Touré said abortion drugs are already classified as narcotics.

“Therefore, doctors have to have a DEA license. Health care providers are regulated on how to store the abortion pill, who has access to the abortion pill,” Cox-Touré said.

In addition to the certification program, SB779 bans dispensing abortion medication after 10 weeks of pregnancy and requires doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. The state pharmacy board and legislative analysts also disagree on the cost of the program, with the pharmacy board estimating $12.2 million and analysts saying $75,000. It’s estimated just 20 doctors in the state currently prescribe drugs used for abortion.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 918, which would ban abortion in Oklahoma outright if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned. Republican lawmakers and officials in several states, including Oklahoma, have indicated they’re willing to pass abortion restrictions that are unconstitutional in order to get a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, House Republicans passed bills to ban abortion once a heartbeat can be detected and to suspend the license of doctors who perform the procedure for at least one year. Last week, House Republicans passed a bill that would allow only board-certified OB/GYNs to perform abortions. Abortion care is within the scope of practice for many types of physicians, and board-certified OB/GYNs aren’t necessarily trained in the procedure.

Cox-Touré called legislature’s focus on banning abortion “alarming” but not surprising.

“We were prepared for the Biden backlash just as we were prepared when the Obama administration came in. And what we typically see is when states like Oklahoma that is conservative and a democratic president comes into office, this is the issue we see at the forefront,” Cox-Touré said.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat released a statement Wednesday afternoon praising the chamber's work.

"My commitment, and the commitment of Senate Republicans, to protecting the sanctity of life is unwavering and unfaltering," Treat said.

All of the measures passed 38–9, with Sen. J.J. Dossett (D-Owasso) voting for each one and Sen. Warren Hamilton (R-McCurtain) voting against each one.

Hamilton is an abortion abolitionist who wants an immediate, total ban on the procedure. J.J. Dossett’s office had not responded to a request for comment on his votes at the time this story was published.