Here’s What You Need To Know About Oklahoma’s Proposed Abortion Ban

Since the 2020 election, Republican states have launched an unrelenting attack on reproductive rights. In February 2021, South Carolina signed a law effectively making abortions performed after six weeks of pregnancy illegal, and Texas followed in early September with SB 8, an even more restrictive ban. On Tuesday, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed abortion ban SB 612 into law in an attempt to, as Stitt stated, “outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma.”

“SB 612 is a total abortion ban that would make providing an abortion a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $100,000 fine,” Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, tells Well+Good. If SB 612 isn’t blocked by the Oklahoma Supreme Court or federal courts, the ban will go into effect in August.

Given that the majority of Americans believe that abortions should be legal in most cases (per a poll conducted by Pew Research Center in 2019), the ever-escalating nature of abortion bans feels particularly worrying. So if you want to know more about how bills like this take aim at Roe v. Wade, keep reading as reproductive rights advocates and lawyers answer your questions.

What is the Oklahoma abortion ban, Senate Bill 612 (or SB 612)

Let’s cover the basics: SB 612 makes it a felony to perform an abortion in the state of Oklahoma. This means that anyone convicted of performing the operation or dispensing abortion medication to an individual could face up to 10 years in prison as well as a $100,000 fine. The only exception extends to pregnancies that endanger the life of the pregnant person due to a “physical disorder, physical illness or physical injury including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself,” according to the bill.

The individual receiving the abortion will receive no criminal charges, and if SB 612 goes into effect, it will still be possible to receive abortion medication from an out-of-state provider. (Although, Oklahoma did try to roll back this access last year—an effort that was blocked by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.)

What’s receiving less media attention is the finer print of SB 612, says Talcott Camp, JD, chief legal and strategy officer of the National Abortion Federation (NAF). The bill pledges to prosecute any “licensed physician [who] provides medical treatment to a pregnant woman which results in the accidental or unintentional injury or death to the unborn child.” Meaning that doctors may be afraid to treat people with ectopic pregnancies (where a fertilized egg grows outside a person’s uterus) or other complicated medical issues, as has been the case in Texas. This puts two lives at risk: the life of the pregnant person and the life of the doctor.

Sadly, SB 612 isn’t the only abortion ban swirling around the state of Oklahoma and the Southern part of the United States. “As soon as next week, [Oklahoma] could give final approval to a copycat of Texas’s abortion ban that would immediately ban abortion and have the same ‘sue-thy-neighbor’ private enforcement mechanism as Texas SB 8,” says Wales.

What will happen when and if SB 612 goes into effect

If SB 612 goes into effect, it will have repercussions that extend far beyond the Oklahoma borders. Andrea Gallegos, executive administrator of Tulsa Women’s Clinic, says other states will feel the burden if this bill goes into effect. “In the month of August, just before SB 8 passed [in Texas], we had a total of 28 patients from Texas. After SB 8 passed, we were seeing about 300 average [per month]—just from Texas,” she explains.

Wales and Gallegos are both quick to point out that these bans do not stop people from getting abortions, they create barriers that place unnecessary burdens on people’s lives. Driving across several states to get an abortion costs money and forces folks to take time off work. “For the past seven months, since SB 8 took effect, we have seen firsthand what a crisis in access to care looks like and now, Oklahoma politicians are choosing to create the same manmade crisis at home,” says Wales.

Gallegos, who’s navigating the frontline of this “manmade” crisis, says that she’s been receiving calls from people who want to move their abortions up out of fear that SB 612 will eliminate their choices. They call repeatedly, she says, and although the clinic is adding slots to meet demands, it’s simply impossible to keep up. “I’ve heard the term medical refugees used a lot to describe women who are having to leave the state to seek care, and I think that term is powerful because these laws are literally forcing women to seek refuge in another state because of these vigilante laws. The alternative to doing that is essentially forced pregnancy,” says Gallegos.

If you look at the bill in a larger context, you can also see that SB 612 is part of a larger strategy to dismantle and complicate reproductive rights throughout the country. “Lawmakers in many states, including Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, have sought—some of them successfully—to enact extreme bans on abortion this year, spurred by the prospect that the Supreme Court is set to overturn or severely weaken Roe v. Wade,” Wales explains.

What does Roe v. Wade have to do with it

A quick refresher: Roe v. Wade was a landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that protected abortion under the constitutional right of privacy, a right implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. With a conservative-leaning Supreme Court now in place, Roe v. Wade could be gutted—or even overturned—if one of these state-level bans (like SB 612) made it onto their docket.

Although there’s no way of knowing if SB 612 will make its way to the Supreme Court and challenge Roe v. Wade, there is a law that currently has a pretty clear path for overturning or severely limiting the decision. “Right now, the Supreme Court is considering a challenge—Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—to Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban that could unravel the protections of Roe v. Wade or overturn Roe altogether,” says Wales. The ruling is expected to happen in June.

If Roe v. Wade falls, the damage to reproductive rights will be devastating—particularly for those living in states that don’t protect abortion rights outside of federal laws. “If that happens, 26 states—which are home to more than 36 million women of reproductive age plus more transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people who can become pregnant—are likely to quickly move to ban abortion,” Wales says.

If you or someone you know needs access to reproductive care, you can find resources and clinics near you via Abortion Finder

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