Oklahoma’s conservative governor has signed into law the most severe abortion restriction currently active in the United States.
The law, passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature last week and signed into law on Wednesday by Governor Kevin Stitt, allows private citizens to sue abortion providers in almost all situations, allowing exceptions only to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest that has been reported to law enforcement.
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The legislation is modelled after a similar Texas law, which effectively banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, designed to be enforced by civil lawsuits rather than criminal prosecution.
In a statement, Sitt said he had “promised Oklahomans that as governor I would sign every piece of pro-life legislation that came across my desk”.
“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,” he said. “That is what I believe and that is what the majority of Oklahomans believe.”
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights immediately announced they would challenge the law, calling “forced pregnancy … a grave violation of human rights dignity”.
Rights groups are currently challenging an Oklahoma law that allows private citizens to sue those providing or assisting in abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant.
#BREAKING: Oklahoma just became the only state in the U.S. to totally ban abortion while #RoevWade still stands. The Center & @PPFA are suing the state of Oklahoma on behalf of abortion providers and advocates to stop this cruel ban and restore abortion access in the state. pic.twitter.com/IOxefOqmfV
— Center for Reproductive Rights (@ReproRights) May 26, 2022
A raft of laws have been passed in conservative-controlled state legislatures across the US after the Supreme Court declined to block the Texas law in March.
The signing on Wednesday comes after a leaked draft opinion indicated the conservative-majority US Supreme Court was set to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which determined that abortion was a constitutionally protected right in the US.
On Wednesday, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights called the latest Oklahoma law the “beginning of a domino effect that will spread across the entire South and Midwest if Roe falls”.
“Right now, patients in Oklahoma are being thrown into a state of chaos and fear,” she said in a statement. “That chaos will only intensify as surrounding states cut off access as well.”
At least 13 states currently have on the books so-called “trigger bans”, laws that would ban most abortions if Roe v Wade is overturned.
A total of 22 states currently have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion if Roe v Wade is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Those include a law signed by Sitt in April which would make it a felony to perform abortions in the state. That law does not include an exception for rape or incest.
An official ruling from the Supreme Court is expected in June or July.