Oklahoma Could Make It a Felony to Perform Abortions

In the conservative movement’s quest to revoke women’s reproductive rights, the Oklahoma legislature Thursday passed a bill that would make it a felony to perform abortions, with penalties including the revocation of medical licenses for physicians who assist in the procedure and a maximum prison sentence of three years.

The new law would classify performing abortions as “unprofessional conduct” for physicians. While there are exceptions for saving the life of the mother, women who become pregnant as the result of rape or incest would still have to carry a child to term.

Sen. Nathan Dahm, who co-authored the bill, told the Associated Press he believes “life begins at conception,” adding, “it’s a core function of state government to defend that life from the beginning of conception.”

If signed into law by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, the bill will put Oklahoma directly at odds with federal law. Since the passage of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld a woman’s right to choose.

As the Center for Reproductive Rights wrote in a letter to Fallin:

The Court has repeatedly held that the Constitution prohibits a state from enacting a law that bans abortion prior to the point in pregnancy when a fetus is viable. As the Supreme Court has emphasized, 'viability marks the earliest point at which the State’s interest in fetal life is constitutionally adequate to justify a legislative ban on nontherapeutic abortions.' The Supreme Court has never wavered from this position, despite numerous opportunities to do so. By completely banning abortions, Senate Bill 1552 wholly conflicts with all U.S. Supreme Court precedent on abortion while ignoring the integral part that abortion plays in helping to achieve equality for women.

Despite the potential for a Supreme Court showdown, Fallin has yet to indicate whether she will sign the bill. The governor has a strong track record of restricting access to abortion in Oklahoma. The state currently has only two operating abortion clinics, placing it on par with other conservative states where the accessibility of reproductive health care has dwindled to virtually null.

Still, as the New York Times Editorial Board points out, at least Oklahoma is effectively banning abortion “without offering any pretense of trying to protect women’s health.” Conservative legislatures across the United States consistently chip away at the protections afforded by Roe v. Wade under the guise of protecting women. Forty-three states prohibit abortions generally, imposing restrictions including gestation limits, physician and hospital requirements and state-mandated counseling.

At least Oklahoma is being honest about its intentions. It's clear that lawmakers in the Sooner State hope to overturn Roe v. Wade and defy the constitutional right to privacy afforded to women by that pivotal Supreme Court decision. If they really want to go all in, the legislature could enact “some form of punishment” for women who obtain abortions. After all, that is—as Donald Trump once suggested—the natural progression for the pro-life movement.

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