The Republican-controlled Oklahoma state legislature passed a bill on Thursday that is modeled after the six-week abortion ban that Texas implemented last fall, which allows private residents to sue abortion providers in order to enforce the ban.
Like Texas’s six-week abortion ban, the bill places the onus of enforcement on individuals rather than the state. In other words, the state wouldn’t force abortion providers to abide by the new rules — instead, it would incentivize private residents to enforce the rules by allowing them to sue medical providers or any other individual who helps someone get an abortion. If the bill is signed into law, residents would be able to sue such persons for $10,000 for every abortion performed.
Although the enforcement method of the Texas law has been contested, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the law to stay in place while lower courts consider its legality.
Notably, the Oklahoma bill also restricts the defenses a person can make if they are being sued by another individual that claims they’re in violation of the law — a person cannot state in their defense, for example, a belief that the abortion ban is unconstitutional.
According to state Rep. Cyndi Munson (D), the Oklahoma bill was passed without a “questions and answers” or even a debate on the measure.
Proponents of the bill have referred to it as the “Oklahoma Heartbeat Act,” claiming that six weeks into pregnancy is when the fetal “heartbeat” becomes detectable. But medical experts say that such characterizations of what’s happening to the embryo at that stage of pregnancy are wrong.
“What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity. In no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart,” said Dr. Jennifer Kerns, an OB-GYN and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, in an interview with NPR last fall.
The bill now goes to the desk of Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has pledged to sign all anti-abortion bills that are sent his way.
Earlier this month, Stitt signed a bill into law that would make the provision of abortion services at any stage a felony. But that law won’t go into effect right away, and will likely face fierce legal challenges once it does, unless the U.S. Supreme Court dismantles or curtails abortion rights protections that were established in the landmark 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade. The bill banning abortion after six weeks, however, will go into effect immediately after Stitt signs it.