'Cruel and terrifying': Bounty hunters will enforce nation's first total abortion ban in Oklahoma

'Cruel and terrifying': Bounty hunters will enforce nation's first total abortion ban in Oklahoma
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on June 18, 2020 during a roundtable discussion with governors and small business owners on the reopening of America's small businesses (Shealah Craighead).

Oklahoma on Wednesday became the first state in the U.S. to enact a total ban on abortion after Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill that outlaws the procedure at fertilization and deputizes private citizens to enforce the prohibition.

Modeled after Texas' similarly draconian ban, the Oklahoma measure is one of several increasingly extreme bills that state-level Republicans advanced following the leak of a draft opinion making clear the right-wing Supreme Court majority's intention to overturn Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks.

Galvanized by the likely end of Roe, Republicans in Florida are eyeing a total ban on abortion as GOP leaders and right-wing groups continue laying the groundwork for a potential attack on reproductive rights at the federal level.

Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the new Oklahoma law—which took effect immediately—"cruel and terrifying" and voiced "solidarity with our partners on the ground working to fight this."

The Oklahoma ban includes exceptions in cases of rape and incest, but those crimes are woefully underreported, rendering the narrow exceptions largely meaningless. While the law explicitly doesn't apply to Plan B, state-level GOP lawmakers have signaled their intention to target emergency contraceptives with future legislation.

"We are seeing the beginning of a domino effect that will spread across the entire South and Midwest if Roe falls," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Two of Oklahoma's four abortion clinics had already been forced to stop offering abortion care after Stitt signed into law a separate six-week ban earlier this month. The measure that Stitt signed Wednesday will compel the two other abortion clinics to cease operations, cutting off services for Oklahomans as well as Texans who had been traveling to the neighboring state to receive care.

Oklahoma's total abortion ban empowers private citizens to sue providers as well as anyone who "aids and abets" an abortion, an enforcement mechanism designed to evade legal challenges. The reward for successful lawsuits is at least $10,000.

The Center for Reproductive Rights described the law as a "bounty-hunting scheme."

"Banning abortion after six weeks was not extreme enough for Oklahoma lawmakers," Northup said Wednesday. "The goal of the anti-abortion movement is to ensure no one can access abortion at any point for any reason."

"That chaos will only intensify," Northup added, "as surrounding states cut off access as well."

Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, warned that "Oklahoma's politicians, from the governor on down, are determined to strip rights from anyone who could become pregnant."

"For the first time in nearly 50 years, abortion is illegal—at every stage of pregnancy—in an American state," said Wales. "People who can become pregnant now have fewer rights and fewer protections in Oklahoma than in any other state in the union. Legislators who, in overwhelming numbers, cannot become pregnant have just made lesser citizens of those who can."

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