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Oklahoma passes a bill to make most abortions illegal


Medical providers in Oklahoma who perform abortions will face up to 10 years in prison if a new bill passed by the Legislature goes into effect. With no debate and limited discussion, the Republican-controlled House voted to make abortions a felony, while hundreds of abortion rights supporters rallied outside the state Capitol. The measure now awaits a signature from Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who previously said he would sign any anti-abortion legislation. Catherine Sweeney is with the public radio initiative StateImpact Oklahoma, and I asked her this morning what makes this ban different.

CATHERINE SWEENEY: The big thing is context. So right below us, Texas recently banned the vast majority of abortions, which drove up demand here in Oklahoma. I talked Iman Alsaden, who's the medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Great Plains. In the last four months of 2020, before that ban, Texans, 50 of them or so, came to this Great Plains region, the Planned Parenthood clinics here, for abortion services. After that ban, the last four months of 2021, it was about 1,100. So Oklahoma providers are treating those people and their own. Here's Alsaden.

IMAN ALSADEN: Absolutely. The burden on New Mexico and Kansas and Louisiana is going to be immense.

SWEENEY: There's also concerns that the U.S. Supreme Court won't step in in ways that there weren't concerns about that in the past.

MARTÍNEZ: So it sounds like Oklahoma's ban could have a pretty big impact on the region.

SWEENEY: That's definitely for sure. Again, we're treating people from other states, and if Oklahoma stops providing abortions, abortion rights activists are concerned that that will just push further north. And also, Kansas is considering a ban on a ballot initiative that they'll vote on in August.

MARTÍNEZ: Catherine, did this vote come as any surprise?

SWEENEY: Yes and no. So the House, the GOP-controlled House, passed the bill with 70 votes for, 14 against. It was a surprise because that bill had been assumed dormant. It got almost to the finish line last year, seemingly disappeared. They kind of brought it back with just one vote this year. It didn't have to go through the whole process. So that came as a surprise. But the Legislature has passed about a dozen abortion bills this year, abortion restriction bills, and they seem to be retrying past ones. They actually passed a bill just like this in 2016. The governor then vetoed it. But we have a new governor now, and Governor Stitt has said he'll sign any abortion restriction measures that make it to his desk.

MARTÍNEZ: So what's next in the fight for reproductive rights?

SWEENEY: That bill that criminalizes performing abortions, that's going to the governor's desk. He's expected to sign it. Actually, today a House committee will vote on another bill that's a copycat of the ban in Texas. And we'll see if there are injunctions on any of these bills. Like I said, there are about a dozen. We don't know which ones will manage to go into effect. In the coming months, the Supreme Court will consider Mississippi's abortion law, which could result in the removal of the right to an abortion, as has been guaranteed by Roe v. Wade since 1973.

MARTÍNEZ: Reporter Catherine Sweeney of public radio initiative StateImpact Oklahoma. Catherine, thanks.

SWEENEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Catherine Sweeney