OKLAHOMA CITY --Any doctor who performs an abortion in Oklahoma could be charged with a felony and punished with up to three years in prison under a bill that the Legislature passed Thursday.
The measure is the first of its kind in the nation, according to abortion rights group Center for Reproductive Rights. The bill also would restrict any physician who performs an abortion from obtaining or renewing a license to practice medicine in Oklahoma.
With no discussion or debate, the Senate voted 33-12 Thursday for the bill by Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm. A handful of Republicans joined with Democrats in voting against the bill, which now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin, an anti-abortion Republican. Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said the governor will withhold comment until her staff has time to review it.
"Since I believe life begins at conception, it should be protected, and I believe it's a core function of state government to defend that life from the beginning of conception," said Dahm, R-Broken Arrow.
Abortion rights supporters have said the bill is unconstitutional and will be challenged immediately. Sen. Ervin Yen, an Oklahoma City Republican and the only physician in the Senate, described the measure as "insane" and voted against it.
"Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission year after year to restrict women's access vital health care services, yet this total ban on abortion is a new low," Amanda Allen, an attorney for the New-York based center said in a statement. "The Center for Reproductive Rights is closely watching this bill and we strongly urge Governor Fallin to reject this cruel and unconstitutional ban."
Dahm says he's hopeful the measure could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
Also Thursday, the Oklahoma House approved a bill that requires the state Department of Health to develop informational material "for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society," but lawmakers didn't approve any funding for it. The measure, which now goes to the Senate, requires the health department to produce information about alternatives to abortion and the developmental stages of a fetus, but the bill's sponsor says it cannot be implemented without any funding.