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Gov. Stitt signs bill banning most abortions in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signs Senate Bill 612, which would make performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. April 12, 2022.

On Tuesday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law that criminalizes abortion, effectively making most abortions illegal in the state.

Senate Bill 612, authored by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) and Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland), makes performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. The only exception is in the case of a medical emergency.

The bill only punishes the provider, not the woman undergoing the procedure.

"We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country," Stitt said at the Tuesday morning bill signing. "We want to outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma."

Abortion providers in Oklahoma have pledged to challenge the ban in court.

"It"s a very dark day in Oklahoma," said Emily Wales, the interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, "We will fight back against these cruel bans in court because people shouldn’t have to cross state lines in secret to access care that should be available in their communities.

Stitt said he's ready to take on that fight.

"I know this bill will be challenged immediately by liberal activists from the coast, who always seem to want to come in and dictate and mandate and challenge our way of life," Stitt said.

Oklahoma is already in legal proceedings over five other abortion bills from last year. Although some of the plaintiffs are national organizations, several of them — including the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice and the Tulsa Women's Reproductive Clinic — are local.

Stitt continued to paint a simple picture of stances on abortion in the state.

"As governor, I represent all four million Oklahomans, and they overwhelmingly support protecting life," Stitt said.

But reality is not so simple. In 2015, SoonerPoll found that although a majority of Oklahomans do identify as pro-life, only about 55 percent of respondents supported legislation limiting abortion. That same year, a Pew survey on the country’s religious landscape found that it was essentially a tossup; 51 percent of respondents in Oklahoma said they support access.

Barring legal challenges, the law is scheduled to go into effect late summer 2022.

Oklahoma and other Texas border states have already seen a major influx of patients seeking abortions, and providers say that lack of access will only worsen if Oklahoma’s restrictions go into effect.

"The only person who should have the power to decide whether you need an abortion is you — no matter where you live, or how much money you make," said Tamya Cox-Touré, the executive director of ACLU Oklahoma. "Today’s signing is a reminder of the immediate threat to our community's health and reproductive freedom, serving as a placeholder to a rapidly approaching future without access to safe and legal abortion."

Catherine Sweeney reports for StateImpact Oklahoma, focusing on health.
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
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