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Abortion protest
Photography Gayatri Malhotra

Oklahoma has now approved a near-total ban on abortion

If the bill is signed into law, performing an abortion could result in 10 years in prison

On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma passed Senate Bill 612, which seeks to make almost all abortions illegal. The legislation will make performing an abortion from the point of conception a felony crime which could lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a $100,000 fine. The only exception would be to “save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.”

Republican Rep Jim Olsen, who authored the bill, said that he was “thrilled” that the state now had “the potential of seeing many lives of babies saved.” He added that the bill passed without any floor debate. “Nobody debated and nobody asked any questions,” he said. “I was actually kind of shocked.”

Oklahoma's law is one of many anti-abortion bills that have recently passed in Republican-controlled states. Most notably, in September 2021 Texas voted to criminialise abortion six weeks after conception – even in cases of rape or incest. Following the ban, many Texans had travelled to Oklahoma, a neighbouring state, to access safe and legal abortions.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, another anti-abortion bill – House Bill 4327 – is currently being considered by state lawmakers. The bill would allow private citizens to file lawsuits against doctors providing abortions.

Pro-choice activists and campaign groups within Oklahoma have vocally opposed the bill. “If allowed to take effect, SB 612 would be devastating for both Oklahomans and Texans who continue to seek care in Oklahoma,” a coalition of abortion rights groups, including the ACLU of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said in a statement. “Nearly half of the patients Oklahoma providers are currently seeing are medical refugees from Texas. Now, Oklahomans could face a future where they would have no place left in their state to go to seek this basic health care.”

The bill has now been passed over to Republican governor Kevin Stitt, who is expected to sign the bill into law: in September, Stitt vowed to sign “every piece of pro-life legislation” that came to his desk. If Stitt signs the bill, it would come into effect on August 26th this year and upend Roe v. Wade – the 1973 decision that prohibited states from banning abortions before fetal viability – in the process.

In the meantime, Rebecca Tong, co-executive director of Trust Women, which operates a clinic that provides abortions in Oklahoma City, has said the clinic will remain open as long as possible. “We will not be deterred from providing compassionate health care to our patients — many of whom are our neighbours, colleagues, and family,” she said.