State Lawmakers Push Abortion Restrictions Closer To Governor's Desk

Apr 7, 2021

Oklahoma lawmakers’ relentless push for new abortion restrictions continued on Wednesday.

Three bills made it out of committee, putting them all a floor vote away from the governor’s desk.

The House Public Health Committee passed Senate Bill 612, which is similar to Arkansas’ recently adopted near-total ban. Doctors who perform the procedure would be guilty of a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, only to "save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency."

Such measures are being pushed by Students for Life, a group seeking to ban abortion across the U.S. Committee Chair Cynthia Roe (R-Lindsay) took the unusual step of letting the organization’s regional manager, Sarah Zarr, speak.

"We wanted to focus it on, you know, the enforcement being on the doctors and not pregnant women because we wanted to demonstrate our compassion for the additional victims of the abortion industry," Zarr said.

Rep. Ajay Pittman (D-Oklahoma City) recognized Zarr for her bravery in coming to speak.

"However, it is my frustration as a member of this committee that we continue to bring young people in this committee to present and testify on behalf of members for political gain," Pittman said.

The same committee also passed Senate Bill 779, which would implement an unnecessary and potentially expensive certification program for doctors who dispense abortion drugs. The medications are already federally regulated and further restricted under state law. There's a more than $12 million disagreement between legislative and the state pharmacy board about how much it would cost the agency to run the program.

Most abortions in Oklahoma are now done via medication. Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) claimed the bill is about safety.

"This is about if we’re going to do chemical abortions in Oklahoma, putting a process in place to make sure the woman’s health is forefront," Lepak said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved House Bill 2441. It would ban the procedure when a heartbeat can be detected, which is as early as six weeks and before many people know they are pregnant.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains Regional Manager of Public Policy and Organizing Gloria Pedro said when lawmakers try to ban abortion, what they’re really doing is banning safe, legal abortion.

"The impact of abortion restrictions is predominately felt by those who already experience barriers to health care, including young women, women of color and those with disabilities, as well as women with low incomes and women who live in rural areas or are undocumented. Banning abortion altogether could place these women’s lives in jeopardy," Pedro said.

Some Republican lawmakers have not been shy in saying they hope a law will make it to the U.S. Supreme Court and get Roe v. Wade overturned. Pedro said there are several abortion cases SCOTUS could take up now, but it hasn’t.

"So, these bills that are being pushed in state legislatures are just – they’re the equivalent of demand letters. They’re legislators whining, trying to force SCOTUS to do what they want, and that’s just not how any of this works," Pedro said.

The measures advanced Wednesday have been overwhelmingly supported by Republican lawmakers, with Owasso Sen. J.J. Dossett the only Democrat to vote for them.

Abortion has generally declined in Oklahoma since 2002 without total bans, and most pregnant people who seek an abortion in the state already have at least one child.