Oklahoma GOP governor signs 6-week abortion ban modeled on Texas law that allows civil enforcement

By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt on Tuesday signed into law a bill inspired by the controversial Texas abortion law, which allows private citizens to file civil suits against abortion providers to enforce the law.

The “Oklahoma Heartbeat Act,” Senate Bill 1503, takes effect immediately and prohibits abortions at the time a doctor can detect early heart activity in an embryo or fetus, which can occur as early as six weeks pregnancy – even before many women know they are pregnant. The measure provides exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.

“I am proud to sign SB 1503, the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act,” said Stitt, a Republican, in a tweet with photographs of him signing the legislation. “I want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the nation because I represent the four million Oklahomans who overwhelmingly want to protect the unborn.”

SB 1503 would also allow private citizens to bring a civil action against a person who performs or causes an abortion, intends to perform an abortion, or knowingly aids or abets an abortion, such as paying for the procedure. Under the bill, the relief would include at least $10,000 in statutory damages for each abortion performed or assisted by the defendant in violation of the law, legal fees and compensatory damages.

The bill would bar civil suits against certain people, including the woman who had an abortion or who requested the procedure. The bill would also prohibit a person who has impregnated a woman through rape, sexual assault or incest from bringing a civil action.

Last month, Stitt signed a near-total abortion ban into law that makes performing an abortion illegal in the state, with an exception only for medical emergencies.

The law, which is expected to take effect this summer, makes abortion or attempted abortion a felony punishable by a maximum fine of $100,000 or a maximum of 10 years in state prison, or both.

Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood and the Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic, filed a challenge to SB 1503 last week.

Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood and the Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic, filed a challenge to SB 1503 last week.

On Tuesday, shortly before Stitt enacted the legislation, the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to grant the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order that would have stopped the measure from taking effect.

The plaintiffs expressed disappointment with the court’s decision, but said they would continue to fight in hopes of eventually blocking the law. The state high court has yet to decide whether or not to hear the case, according to the plaintiffs.

Nancy Northup, director of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the plaintiffs, said the ban “would reverberate far beyond Oklahoma”.

“Many Texans fled to Oklahoma for abortion services and may now be out of options. This is just a preview of what will happen if Roe is knocked down,” Northup said in a statement.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood also filed a separate challenge last week in an existing case against SB 612, the near-total abortion ban Stitt signed last month.

This story was updated with additional developments on Tuesday.

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