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The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Gov. Fallin Prevents OK from Being the First State to Ban Abortion

Adam Banner - Monday, May 23, 2016

When the Oklahoma legislature passed a measure to criminalize abortion, it seemed almost certain that Governor Mary Fallin, who has been a strong supporter of right-to-life legislation, would sign the bill into law. Surprisingly, common sense prevailed when Gov. Fallin refused to sign the bill into law, saying the measure would not withstand a constitutional challenge.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate had approved the bill to criminalize abortion, despite federal law which allows the procedure.

Senate Bill 1552 would have amended existing state law defining “unprofessional conduct” of physicians to include performing an abortion, allowing the state to revoke the medical license of any doctor who performs an abortion.

Perhaps even more shocking was the amendment that would make it a felony to perform an abortion, even by a physician licensed and trained to do so. Currently, 63 O.S. § 1-731 reads as follows:

No person shall perform or induce an abortion upon a pregnant woman unless that person is a physician licensed to practice medicine in the State of Oklahoma. Any person violating this section shall be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not less than one (1) year nor more than three (3) years in the State Penitentiary.

SB 1552 would strike the provision allowing the performance of an abortion by licensed physician. The proposal further stated that no doctor who has performed an abortion may obtain or renew an Oklahoma medical license.

In short, the bill that passed both the Oklahoma House and Senate, would strip the license of a doctor who performs an abortion (except if the procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother) and make him or her a convicted felon, sending the doctor to prison for one to three years.

In March, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 40-7, showing the support of both republicans and democrats. On Tuesday, it passed the House with no debate by a vote of 33-12.

If Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin had signed the bill into law, it would have become effective November 1 of this year. 

Senator Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, is a licensed physician and the only doctor serving as an Oklahoma senator. He is also an opponent of SB 1552, calling the passing of the measure “insane.” Yen said that he was certain that if the bill became law, it would be challenged in court—an expectation that was not lost on the authors of the bill. In addition to the amendments to existing law that would criminalize abortion and strip the medical licenses of the doctors who perform them, the bill would have added a new law in anticipation of legal challenges:

In the event that any provision of this act is challenged in court in any action alleging a violation of either the Constitution of the United States of America or the State of Oklahoma, the Office of the Attorney General shall determine the amount of state or local funds expended to defend such action.

“Insane” certainly seems to be an appropriate designation for a state legislature that, in the midst of a staggering budget failure that cripples state agencies and shutters schools, would enact a law in opposition to federal law that would almost guaranteed to result in costly legal challenges. Fortunately, with Gov. Fallin's veto, this measure is dead for now. But don't be surprised if it shows up again next year with changes intended to bolster the bill against legal challenges.

 






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