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Oklahoma lawmakers advance another abortion bill, this one to allow civil enforcement

The bill would follow another anti-abortion bill the Oklahoma legislature sent to the governor’s desk on Tuesday that would make performing an abortion or attempting to perform the procedure a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of $100,000.
The “Oklahoma Heartbeat Act,” Senate Bill 1503, would prohibit abortions at the time when a physician can detect early cardiac activity in an embryo or fetus, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — before many women even know that they are pregnant. It provides exceptions for medical emergencies.

The bill would also allow private citizens to bring a civil lawsuit against a person who performs or induces an abortion, intends to perform an abortion, or knowingly aides or abets an abortion such as paying for the procedure. Under the measure, relief would include at least $10,000 in statutory damages for each abortion the defendant performed or aided in violation of the act, legal fees, and compensatory damages.

The bill would prohibit civil action from being brought against certain individuals, including the woman who had the abortion or sought the procedure. The proposal would not allow a person who impregnated a woman through rape, sexual assault or incest to bring a civil action.

The bill would take effect with the governor’s signature.

The Republican-led House Public Health committee on Wednesday passed the bill by a vote of 7-1, with one Democrat opposing the bill. The bill now moves to a vote in the full House.

The state Senate had passed the legislation last month by a vote of 33-11.

The bill is just one of a number of restrictive measures on abortion that the Oklahoma legislature is considering this session, and is one of two bills in Oklahoma that is styled after a controversial Texas law that went into effect in September.

House Bill 4327, modeled after the Texas law that also allows enforcement through private civil lawsuits, is under consideration in the state Senate. That bill would ban most abortions at any point in pregnancy, but provide exceptions for medical emergencies or if the pregnancy was the result of rape, sexual assault or incest and reported to law enforcement.
Senate Bill 612, the measure that received the legislature’s final passage on Tuesday, would make performing an abortion illegal in the state, making exceptions only in the case of medical emergencies. Under the bill, the woman would not be criminally charged or convicted for the death of her “unborn child.”

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt had previously promised to sign every bill limiting abortion that came across his desk.

Oklahoma state Rep. Todd Russ, who is championing the so-called heartbeat bill in the House, told CNN that if the near-total ban that was passed Tuesday is appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court, that his bill could still stand, noting that the high court had allowed the Texas law to go into effect.

Emily Wales, the interim president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, told CNN that the so-called heartbeat bill is “more concerning in many ways” than the near-total ban in part because it models after the Texas law that abortion providers and advocates have struggled to block.

Wales warned that the bills would create a “regional crisis at a level we haven’t seen yet,” and with a shortage of providers, it could push the system to a breaking point.

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