Oklahoma Enacts Nation's Strictest Abortion Law, Banning the Procedure from Moment of Conception

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law on Wednesday, which also allows private citizens to sue abortion providers who "knowingly" perform the procedure

roe v. wade
Abortion rights protestors outside the Supreme Court. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty

Oklahoma has enacted a ban on abortions from the moment of "fertilization," essentially outlawing all abortions in the state.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, signed the bill into law on Wednesday, making Oklahoma the most restrictive on abortion in the nation. It went into effect immediately.

Under the law, "fertilization" is defined as when a sperm meets and egg at the moment of conception, meaning a person would be entirely unaware that they are pregnant.

The law is modeled after Texas' ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which mobilizes private citizens to act as whistleblowers and file lawsuits against anyone who "performs or induces" an abortion, anyone who "knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets" an abortion and anyone who simply "intends to engage" in either of the two actions.

Because the law is enforced by civilians and not criminal enforcement, legal challenges to similar bills like Texas' have failed, even though it goes against the right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade.

The law does allow for the use of the Plan B pill, a form of emergency contraception used after intercourse, but not for medical abortions using pills. There are also exceptions for rape or incest, and in cases where it is "necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency."

Oklahoma's House voted 73-16 in favor of the bill on May 19, after the state's Senate approved it in April. "There can be nothing higher or more critical than the defense of innocent, unborn life," State Representative Jim Olsen, a Republican, said ahead of the vote.

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Just two weeks earlier, Stitt had signed a ban on abortions after six weeks into law. That bill does not have exceptions for rape or incest, and is set to take effect on Aug. 26. Along with the two bills, Oklahoma already has a "trigger law" in place that would outright ban abortions in the state if Roe is overturned, which appears likely based on a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court.

Oklahoma had seen an influx of people seeking abortions from Texas ever since the border state banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in September. Abortions in Texas have dropped 60% since their ban, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, but the Trust Women clinics in Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas said they've had an increase. With these bills, abortion seekers would have to travel even further for the procedure.

"Today, for the first time in nearly 50 years, abortion is illegal — at every stage of pregnancy — in an American state," Emily Wales, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which has three locations in Oklahoma, all of which have had to stop performing abortions, said in a statement. "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."

"This isn't a fire drill," Wales had said after the House vote. "This is not a rehearsal for what's to come. We are living in this real world right now. The Supreme Court will finalize that this summer."

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