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The Oklahoma Legislature has passed a sweeping ban on abortions in the state, marking the latest in a national trend of red states implementing restrictive abortion laws. NewsHour's Adam Kemp reports from Oklahoma City, and Mary Ziegler, author of "Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present," joins Stephanie Sy to discuss.
The Oklahoma state legislature has passed a near total ban on abortions in the state, marking the latest in a national trend of red states implementing restrictive abortion laws.
Stephanie Sy has more.
The Oklahoma bill passed with an overwhelming majority yesterday and with little debate. It makes providing abortions illegal and punishable with up to 10 years of prison time and a fine of $100,000. The only exception is to save the life of the mother and what the law calls a physical medical emergency.
For more on all this, I'm joined by Adam Kemp, the "NewsHour"'s communities correspondent in Oklahoma City.
Adam, you have been covering the wave of anti-abortion legislation in red states. Assuming that Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signs this bill into law, what's the impact?
That's right, Stephanie.
And Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has actually said any anti-abortion legislation that reaches his desk, he will sign it. This bill in particular is pretty interesting, as it actually passed the Oklahoma Senate last year and was taken up by the Oklahoma House yesterday while a big protest of abortion advocates was actually out on the front steps of the Capitol protesting other legislation.
The impact, advocates say, could be very severe, as Oklahoma is currently a critical access point for people from Texas after the passage of S.B.8 last year, which banned abortions at six weeks of pregnancy. Now, those Texans have flooded over the borders of fellow states, including more than half of them coming to Oklahoma, to seek out an abortion.
Advocates say that this kind of legislation could really cripple the state in terms of providing that care for people. And there are more pieces of legislation on the way, including a possible trigger effect ban, which would eliminate abortions in the state entirely if Roe v. Wade were to be rolled back at all.
Adam, assuming there will be court challenges to this law, what are the chances that it will actually go into effect? And are abortion providers in that state — and there are a limited number — actually preparing for this ban?
Yes, that's an interesting part right now, because it's kind of an unknown at this point. The law is fully expected to be signed by Governor Stitt, but three similar laws were signed into effect last year by Governor Stitt. And those laws were all overturned by the Oklahoma state Supreme Court, so they didn't even make it out of the state.
But, like we were talking about earlier, with the possibility of Roe v. Wade being challenged in the Supreme Court, kind of everything's up in the air at this point, and advocates are wondering kind of where the pieces will fall.
Adam Kemp, "NewsHour"'s Oklahoma City communities correspondent, thank you.
And now to take a look at how Oklahoma's law fits into a national trend, I'm joined by Mary Ziegler, author of "Abortion and the Law in America: Roe V. Wade to the Present."
Mary, thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour."
Tell us how Oklahoma's bill compares to other abortion legislation across the country, for example, S.B.8 in Texas.
Mary Ziegler, Harvard Law School:
Well, I think S.B.8 and some of the bills we saw earlier were really written for an era when courts — states had to — red states had to circumvent constitutional protections for abortion rights.
Oklahoma legislators are clearly staking out the position that there will be no more abortion rights within a matter of months, that states will be able to do whatever they want. And I think we'd expect to see a lot of red states introducing similar criminal prohibitions to this one, initially at least targeting doctors.
This law, though, does seem blatantly unconstitutional, violating the federal statute that was established by Roe v. Wade.
So what is the intention behind passing laws like this? Is it just to be ready, in the hope for anti-abortion advocates that Roe v. Wade will be overturned?
I mean, I think it's a vote of confidence that red state lawmakers have that this Supreme Court will, in fact, not only reverse Roe v. Wade, but will do so in short order. And they have some reason to believe that that's correct and that, while this law will almost certainly be blocked in the short term because it's unconstitutional, the Supreme Court is quite likely to change its interpretation of the Constitution and open the door to criminal laws, just like the one we see in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is not alone in trying to preemptively restrict abortion in the chance that Roe v. Wade is overturned when the Supreme Court takes up that Mississippi abortion law in June.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 12 states have drafted trigger bills — that's what they're called — in the case that the High Court overturns or weakens the constitutional right, as you point out, Mary.
What are the potential outcomes for this battle at the state level?
Well, I think one of the interesting questions is going to be whether we see sort of three Americas when it comes to abortion, which is to say whether there are some states that do either decide not to ban all abortions, maybe ban some abortions.
And we don't know if that's going to happen yet, right? And Oklahoma was an interesting state to see fall into the list of states that plan on banning all abortions, because it hadn't yet done so. So, there are likely to be intense battles in some states about whether every red state will, in fact, follow Oklahoma's path or whether we will see some states land somewhere in the middle, like banning abortion at 15 weeks.
And it's just too early to say.
I want to talk about medication abortion, because more than half of women who decide to have an abortion are now doing so by taking a pill that can be put in the mail, including half of the women in Oklahoma seeking abortions.
How does that fact, Mary, change the legal landscape and the strategy for those advocates trying to stop all abortions?
It complicates it considerably, because states like Oklahoma have staked out two positions, right, one that they want to ban all abortions, except potentially in certain medical emergencies or life-threatening scenarios, and, two, that they don't want to punish women.
But those two positions seem to be in direct tension with one another, when we think about the availability of abortion medication, because, of course, that's going to mean that some women in Oklahoma will continue to get abortions even if Roe is overturned, and will do so without visiting a doctor in Oklahoma.
They may be getting the pills from a doctor overseas. And, at that point, the question for states like Oklahoma is going to become, do they decide to punish women or — and other people who can get pregnant, or do they just create a loophole in the law?
So, I think there's going to be an arms race of sorts between people seeking abortions and states trying to enforce the criminal prohibitions they put in place.
Mary Ziegler, author of "Abortion and the Law in America," thanks so much for joining the "NewsHour."
Thanks for having me.
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Stephanie Sy is a PBS NewsHour correspondent and serves as anchor of PBS NewsHour West. Throughout her career, she served in anchor and correspondent capacities for ABC News, Al Jazeera America, CBSN, CNN International, and PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior to joining NewsHour, she was with Yahoo News where she anchored coverage of the 2018 Midterm Elections and reported from Donald Trump’s victory party on Election Day 2016.
Saher Khan is a reporter-producer for the PBS NewsHour.
Ebony Joseph is a producer for the PBS NewsHour.
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