Newsbreak

Oklahoma House Committee approves abortion restriction with Texas-style enforcement mechanism

Oklahoma

Oklahoma legislators have approved an abortion restriction that would follow Texas’ recent law in allowing citizens to effectively enforce restrictions through private lawsuits.

HB4327 goes further than Texas’ law, however, in that it applies to all abortions rather than just those that occur after doctors can detect a heartbeat. The measure was approved Wednesday by the House Public Health Committee and is likely to succeed in the state, which has already passed a series of pro-life bills over the past year.

Pro-abortion advocates described the bill as extreme and said Texas’ legislation had already prompted a flood of pregnant women to seek services in Oklahoma. The Associated Press reported last month that one Oklahoma City abortion facility went from seeing 12 Texas patients in August to seeing 130 in September when the state’s law took effect. In October, Planned Parenthood of Rocky Mountains similarly told Fox News it had seen a 130% increase in patients since the law was enacted on Sept. 1.

“This bill poses an imminent and grave threat to abortion access in Oklahoma and across the region,” said Elisabeth Smith, who serves as Director of State Policy and Advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Abortion rights activists have been warning of this nightmare for months: these bounty hunter laws will have a domino effect across the country, as more and more states ban abortion nearly entirely while Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land. In the six months since Texas Senate Bill 8 took effect, scores of Texans have sought abortion care in Oklahoma. Where will all of these patients, as well as pregnant people in Oklahoma, go now?”

Data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has shown that the number of abortions performed in the state dropped by more than 60% after the its law was enacted. While abortion providers have reported higher demand, evidence has also pointed to a spike in requests to pro-life charitable organizations. 

For example, a survey from Heartbeat International indicated that 41% of its pregnancy resource centers in Texas and surrounding states saw an increase in clients. The Houston Pregnancy Help Center also told Fox News that it saw ultrasounds increase 50% (from 244 to 365) when comparing Sept. 2021 with the same month in 2020.

While abortion is still legal in Oklahoma, various factors could limit abortion access. Just last week, the Oklahoma Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved five pro-life measures – including a heartbeat bill like Texas’.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, approved many other pro-life laws last year, including another heartbeat bill that encountered a temporary injunction in October. 

Around that time, the Supreme Court was evaluating the legality of Texas’ heartbeat bill, which, like HB4327, allows citizens to sue doctors and others for $10,000. While the Court allowed a challenge against the law to proceed, it stopped short of blocking its implementation – offering pro-lifers hope for both state-level legislation and the Court’s upcoming decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Due to pro-life majorities in both the state House and Senate, it is likely that Oklahoma’s latest bill will make its way to the governor’s desk.

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