Oklahoma lawmakers pass Texas-style six-week abortion law

Pregnancy test ultrasound Credit Atiwich Kaewchum Shutterstock CNA Atiwich Kaewchum/Shutterstock.

Lawmakers in Oklahoma on Thursday passed a bill, modeled after a Texas law, which bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — generally around six weeks gestation — and relies on private lawsuits filed by citizens to enforce the ban. 

The bill is now on the desk of Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is expected to sign it into law. An emergency clause in the bill means it will take effect immediately. 

Thousands of women have traveled to Oklahoma from Texas to avail themselves of abortions since Texas’ law, called the Texas Heartbeat Act, took effect in September 2021 and by most measures drastically reduced the number of surgical abortions taking place in the state. 

Oklahoma’s two Catholic bishops praised the bill as a protective measure for human life in the state, and also encouraged help for the women considering abortion. 

“We are thankful for the leadership in Oklahoma for their continued support of pro-life policies and legislation that recognize the gift of every human life from conception until natural death,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa in an April 29 statement to Catholic News Service.

“It is important as we move forward to ensure that families and expectant mothers know of the many free and low-cost resources available to assist them so they can be successful parents or find wonderful adoptive homes.” 

Instead of providing for enforcement by the state — which would likely be declared unconstitutional in court — the law relies on private lawsuits filed by citizens to enforce the ban. This framework allows for awards of at least $10,000 for plaintiffs who successfully sue those who perform or aid and abet abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. 

Abortion providers have vowed to fight the new measure in court. Following the bill’s passage, companies such as Uber and Lyft announced that they would fully cover legal fees for their drivers if they are sued for transporting a woman to get an abortion.

The passage of the Oklahoma bill comes amid a continued legal reckoning over Texas’ abortion law, which has largely stood up to judicial scrutiny so far, as the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to block it. 

A federal court in late April ordered a lower court to dismiss all legal challenges brought against the enforcement mechanism of the Texas abortion law, a move which a pro-life group called a “substantial pro-life victory.”

In Texas, the Heartbeat Act has proven successful in reducing the number of legal abortions obtained by women within the state — according to data released in October by a group of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, the law led to a 50% reduction in the number of abortions in the first month it was in effect, compared to the same month in 2020. 

However, data analysis from the New York Times has suggested that many women who would otherwise have sought a surgical abortion in Texas traveled to other states — including neighboring Oklahoma — or made use of mail-order abortion pills. Texas Alliance for Life notes that the abortion industry still “thrives” in Texas, with all of the state’s nearly two dozen abortion facilities remaining in operation and abortions performed at the rate of 27,000 per year.

Oklahoma also in late April passed a law banning abortions entirely unless it is done to save the life of the pregnant woman. That law, which would likely be struck down as unconstitutional barring an overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, is set to go into effect in August.

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