May 26, 2022 -- Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law on Wednesday that bans almost all abortions in the state, starting at fertilization.
The new law is the most restrictive abortion ban in the U.S., making exceptions only when an abortion is necessary to save the mother’s life or in cases of rape or incest if they have been reported to police. It takes effect immediately.
“From the moment life begins at conception is when we have a responsibility as human beings to do everything we can to protect that baby’s life and the life of the mother,” Stitt said in a statement. “If other states want to pass different laws, that is their right, but in Oklahoma, we will always stand up for life.”
The bill, HB 4327, defines “fertilization” as the “fusion of a human spermatozoon with a human ovum.” The bill doesn’t restrict the use of forms of contraception that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. According to the text, abortion “does not include the use, prescription, administration, procuring or selling of Plan B, morning-after pills, or any other type of contraception or emergency contraception.”
The law relies on civilians to enforce it to avoid the constitutional right to abortion under the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, according to The New York Times. Similar enforcement methods have been used in new abortion bans across the country, modeled after a Texas law to bypass court challenges that have blocked abortion bans in the past.
Under the Oklahoma law, state officials can’t bring charges. Instead, private citizens can sue abortion providers or anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion, which could include someone who drives a pregnant person to an abortion clinic. If the lawsuit is successful, people can receive $10,000 or more in damages.
Wednesday’s move was expected. Earlier this month, Stitt signed a bill that banned abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, putting it into effect one day after a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court suggested that Roe v. Wade will be overturned in coming weeks.
But abortion providers have warned that the ban in Oklahoma will continue to stress the region. After the ban in Texas, many women seeking abortions traveled across the border to receive care. And the day after the 6-week ban in Oklahoma went into effect, the Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic was forced to cancel 35 appointments and send home 10 patients who had pregnancies that surpassed the gestation limit.
“We are seeing the beginning of a domino effect that will spread across the entire South and Midwest if Roe fails,” Nancy Northup, JD, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the newspaper.
“Right now, patients in Oklahoma are being thrown into a state of chaos and fear,” she said. “That chaos will only intensify as surrounding states cut off access as well.”