Doctors Could Face Jail Time for Performing Abortions in Oklahoma

Experts say the law is unconstitutional, as Republican Governor Mary Fallin, a possible VP candidate for Donald Trump, considers whether to sign it.
May 20, 2016, 4:45pm
Photo by Shawn Thew/EPA

Abortion could soon be illegal in Oklahoma, and punishable with jail time for doctors, after the state legislature passed one of most sweeping anti-abortion laws in recent history this week.

The Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate approved a bill on Thursday that would make abortions punishable by up to three years in prison for doctors who perform them, except in cases where the mother's life is at risk. The bill would also revoke medical licenses for doctors who perform the procedure.

The bill does not include exemptions for rape or incest.

Republican Governor Mary Fallin will now have to decide whether or not to sign the legislation, which was sent to her desk on Thursday. While Fallin has not said how she will act on the bill, political observers believe she will sign it, pointing to her long record of support for anti-abortion legislation.

Fallin, who endorsed Donald Trump and has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, signed legislation just last year banning a common procedure for second-trimester abortions that only included exemptions for the life of the mother. The law was later blocked by a state court.

Related: Missouri's Legislature Has Teed Up More Than a Dozen Anti-Abortion Bills So Far This Year

Republican State Senator Ervin Yen, the only doctor currently serving in the Oklahoma legislature, called the new bill unconstitutional and "insane," adding that it will be overturned by the courts, according to Tulsa World.

Abortion rights groups have already said that they will challenge the law in the courts if Fallin signs it and the regulations become law. NARAL Pro-Choice America, a PAC supporting abortion rights, wrote a letter to Fallin on Thursday urging her to veto the bill.

"This obviously unconstitutional bill will never withstand legal scrutiny and is designed to scare doctors and shame women. It is a shameful new low for the anti-choice movement," NARAL president Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. "This bill is not about protecting women. It is about advancing a far-right wing agenda that is out of step with the seven in 10 Americans who support legal access to abortion. Governor Fallin should veto this bill immediately."

Should abortions rights groups proceed with a legal challenge, legal experts say the bill will almost certainly be struck down, as it essentially bans abortion in the state, which is in conflict with numerous federal court decisions, most notably Roe v. Wade. The bill comes as the Supreme Court is already considering a challenge to a separate anti-abortion law in Texas, which opponents say has led to the closure of half of the state's abortion clinics.

A lengthy court battle could be a major issue for cash-strapped Oklahoma, which is already in the middle of a budget crisis.

Related: Donald Trump Says He Wants to Punish Women for Illegal Abortions, Then Completely Reverses His Position

State Representative David Brumbaugh, who championed the bill in the state House, said earlier this year that the moral issue of abortion was more important than the state's financial problems.

"Everybody talks about this $1.3 billion deficit," Brumbaugh said, according to TalkingPointsMemo. "If we take care of the morality, God will take care of the economy."

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