Oklahoma lawmakers OK bill criminalizing performing abortion

Katherine Hunter, right, of Norman, Okla., holds her son Ransom Hunter, 7 months old, as she stands with anti-abortion activists. (Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma lawmakers have moved to effectively ban abortion in their state by making it a felony for doctors to perform the procedure, an effort the bill's sponsor said Thursday is aimed at ultimately overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The bill, which abortion rights group Center for Reproductive Rights says is the first of its kind in the nation, also would restrict any physician who performs an abortion from obtaining or renewing a license to practice medicine in Oklahoma.

It passed 33-12 Thursday with no discussion or debate; a handful of Republicans joined with Democrats in voting against the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, an anti-abortion Republican, has until Wednesday to sign the bill into law or veto it. Spokesman Michael McNutt said she also could also allow the bill to become law "without approval" after the five-day period has elapsed. He also said she will withhold comment until her staff has time to review it.

Dahm made it clear that he hopes his bill could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade.

"Since I believe life begins at conception, it should be protected, and I believe it's a core function of state government to defend that life from the beginning of conception," said Dahm, R-Broken Arrow.

But abortion rights supporters - and the state's medical association - have said the bill is unconstitutional. Sen. Ervin Yen, an Oklahoma City Republican and the only physician in the Senate, described the measure as "insane" and voted against it.

"Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission year after year to restrict women's access vital health care services, yet this total ban on abortion is a new low," Amanda Allen, an attorney for the New-York based center said in a statement. "The Center for Reproductive Rights is closely watching this bill and we strongly urge Governor Fallin to reject this cruel and unconstitutional ban."

Thursday's vote in the Senate comes as the Oklahoma Legislature nears a May 27 deadline for adjournment and is still grappling with a $1.3 billion budget hole that could lead to deep cuts to public schools, health care and the state's overcrowded prison system.

"Republicans don't have an answer for their failed education policies, failing health care policies and failing fiscal policies, so what do you do in that situation?" said Senate Democratic leader Sen. John Sparks. "You come up with an emotional distraction. That's what this bill is."

Nearly every year, Oklahoma lawmakers have passed bills imposing new restrictions on abortions, but many of those laws have never taken effect. In all, eight of the state's separate anti-abortion measures have been challenged in court as unconstitutional in the last five years.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case over an overturned Oklahoma law that would have required women to view of an ultrasound of her fetus before an abortion is performed. That same year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a law that would have effectively banned all drug-induced abortions in the state.

In 2014, the state Legislature approved a law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, but a challenge is pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Also Thursday, the Oklahoma House approved a bill that requires the state Department of Health to develop informational material "for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society," but lawmakers didn't approve any funding for it. The measure, which now goes to the Senate, requires the health department to produce information about alternatives to abortion and the developmental stages of a fetus, but the bill's sponsor says it cannot be implemented without any funding.
Related Topics:
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(Copyright ©2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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