One day after voting to ban abortion outright, the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Wednesday passed out of committee what many say amounts to another one.
By a count of 7-1, the House Public Health Committee voted to send Senate Bill 1503, by Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, to the House floor, where it could be heard as early as next week.
The bill contains an emergency clause, meaning it would become law immediately upon Gov. Kevin Stitt’s signature, should it pass the full House.
SB 612, the near-total ban on abortion, would not become law until 90 days after adjournment of the Legislature. SB 612 is generally acknowledged to be unconstitutional on its face under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that guarantees women the right to abortions under certain circumstances.
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SB 1503 appears to be very similar to a 2021 Texas law that essentially bans abortion after six weeks — which those with expertise in the subject say is before most women know they’re pregnant.
Like the Texas law, SB 1503 outlaws abortion, except in medical emergencies, if the fetus has “a detectable fetal heartbeat.”
Abortion rights supporters and many medical professionals say the definitions used in SB 1503 and similar legislation do not describe an actual heartbeat, and previous “fetal heartbeat” laws have been ruled unconstitutional.
Both the Texas law and SB 1503 take a different approach from those laws, however, by making enforcement a matter of civil rather than criminal law. Those involved in abortions are open to damage suits from just about anyone who can claim harm from the performance of a procedure.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay the Texas law and remanded a challenge to the law to lower courts, causing much speculation that it would not overturn the measure.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is considering a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. Many think the court will use that case to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Texas law remains in litigation but has shut down abortion clinics in that state.
“SB 1503 … is not only a bad law — it is a reckless and malicious policy that is guaranteed to result in poorer health outcomes for people seeking routine and essential health care, and the further unnecessary and immoral criminalization of pregnant people,” said Rebecca Tong, co-executive director of Trust Women, which provides abortions in Oklahoma City.
Also in the House Wednesday:
The State Powers Committee shucked and passed a bill that would allow the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate civil rights complaints involving public schools, colleges and universities but not private ones.
Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, said the bill seems to be in the same vein as last year’s House Bill 1775, which was a reaction to public concern about often illusory claims about school curricula.
Waldron questioned why private institutions are not included and said he feared the legislation will be used for “witch hunts” and “McCarthy era” attacks.
Senate Bill 768‘s House sponsor, Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole, said he “trusts Oklahomans” not to misuse the law, but he acknowledged that the Attorney General’s Office can and does already investigate civil rights complaints.
The bill, a 2021 carryover that originally dealt with law enforcement certification, now also includes a section creating a commission to study distance learning. That raised questions about whether the new text violates the state constitution’s single-subject rule.
The Public Health Committee kept alive two potentially important measures dealing with pharmacy benefit managers and advanced SB 1100, which codifies Stitt’s executive order banning nonbinary gender identification on birth certificates.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out a bill that prevents local governments from favoring energy sources. The House sponsor, Rep. Brad Boles, R-Marlow, said the measure is to keep towns from barring natural gas in new construction or requiring gas stations to install electric vehicle chargers.
Tulsa-area state legislators and how to contact them